Director Andrew Levitas penned a letter to MGM to reconsider doing a theatrical release of "Minamata" for the sake of the film's importance and those involved in telling the story.
In the movie, Johnny Depp plays Eugene Smith, a famous photojournalist sent to Japan to uncover corporate negligence that caused thousands to suffer from mercury poisoning from polluted waters. It was originally scheduled for a "day-and-date theatrical/VOD release" in February, but it never came out.
In his letter penned to MGM and to backers of "Minamata," Levitas said that he was told by acquisitions head Sam Wollman that MGM had decided to "bury the film" despite an already successful global roll-out, because the studios were "concerned about the possibility that the personal issues of an actor in the film could reflect negatively upon them."
Depp is facing domestic abuse allegations from his ex-wife Amber Heard. He already lost his defamation case against British publication The Sun over an article that labeled him as a "wife beater." He is also set to testify in another libel suit against her next year. The fallout of the accusations though had prompted Warner Bros to ask him to resign from "Fantastic Beasts."
"In a stark reminder of The Chisso Corporation's actions in Minamata and far too many other large corporations' unethical tactics, MGM stated that it would live up to its 'legal obligation' and nothing more. In doing so, MGM is making a conscious decision to hurt these innocents yet again, callously trampling on their lives, their legacy, their dead loved ones, and their bravery," Levitas wrote in his letter obtained by Deadline.
The director acknowledged that MGM, which purchased the North American rights to the film after its Berlin premiere, is "legally within" their rights to bury the story. But he contested that the studios have a "moral obligation to do better than that." He implored that MGM should speak directly to the victims and those involved in telling the film's story.
"Offer them the dignity of understanding first hand why you think an actor's personal life is more important than their dead children, their siblings, their parents, and all victims of industrial pollution and corporate malfeasance," he continued.
Levitas hoped that MGM "take a moment to reflect on the impact" their decision has on others. He reminded the studios that "people all over the world are victimised by corporations who do not value them or consider them as real" and that they have the power to help by simply living up to their "moral commitment to support this film."
In response to the letter, an MGM spokesperson said that "Minamata" is one of the studios' future releases via American International Pictures. At this time, its U.S. release is TBA.