Victims’ Families Not Happy With Johnny Depp Portrayal? {Excerpts}

Johnny Depp is portraying notorious mobster, Whitey Bulger, in the upcoming movie, “Black Mass” (due for release in September). Hollywood is already buzzing with rumors of an Academy Award nomination for Johnny Depp; however, not everyone is happy about his portrayal of Whitey, namely the loved ones of those he brutally murders.  Last summer, {C} interviewed two-time Emmy winning filmmaker, Joe Berlinger. At the time, Berlinger was releasing his documentary on Whitey Bulger, “Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger.”  In the film, Berlinger documents the trial of Whitey, who is convicted of murdering 19 people.  The most compelling part of this film is the true story of how Bulger manages to run The Winter Hill Gang for 25 years without being caught. The FBI claims that they protect Bulger because he plays an informant who gives valuable information to them about the Italian mafia’s activities in Boston. Bulger denies these claims and insists that he pays FBI agents to supply him with information about surveillance, setting wiretaps and giving warrants. Two, federal agents are eventually convicted of crimes connected with Bulger, yet the truth has yet to be revealed about his relationship with the FBI, thus denying the victim’s families complete closure.  In that interview we discussed Depp’s role in the film. Due to renewed interests, we are republishing excerpts from that interview.

{C} What do you hope to accomplish with your documentary?

“I’m not saying that Whitey Bulger was falsely convicted; this is not an apology for Whitey Bulger.  He deserves to be in prison. He did terrible things and he deserves to be exactly where he is. I’m not an advocate for Bulger; I’m an advocate for the truth and allowing the families of Bulger’s victims to know the truth. I want those who are responsible for Bulger to be held responsible.  I want tougher standards for confidential informants not to be allowed to engage in criminal activity.  These are all the things I hope the film will achieve.”

{C} Did you have the opportunity to speak to Bulger?

“No, the government would not allow it. The government would not allow any journalist any access to Bulger during the trial and they continue to deny access. So, it makes the conversation that I was able to film (over the phone with his legal team) somewhat historic. This is the one and only time we have ever really heard Bulger speak, himself, and there have been dozens of books written about him – movies are being made. Johnny Depp is playing Bulger in a movie called, “Black Mass.” Many people in their books and screenplays claim to be speaking for Whitey, but this is the only time we’ve heard Whitey, himself, speak from his perspective, and I think for those who are actually buffs of this story, it is pretty historic.”

{C} Do you know how any of the victims’ families are feeling about the Johnny Depp film?  To think it would be one thing to know a loved one was killed by Bulger, but to see it actually portrayed on film, that  would open up a lot of wounds.

“I have not spoken to them about that particular issue, but I would imagine so. The problem with “Black Mass,” the book, is that it came out in 2000 and it pr-dates a lot of what we have learned from congressional hearings that were highly critical of the FBI and the Department of Justice and their handling of Bulger. It pre-dates the civil lawsuits filed by victims’ family members who want compensation from the government for the wrongful death of their loved ones and so the book is potentially based on flawed reporting about who is ultimately responsible for the death of their loved ones. So, I think the family members are frightened of the trauma of a movie being made about the death of their loved ones, and Johnny Depp playing Whitey Bulger won’t be of help. I imagine there is some level of that which will be potentially hurtful to family members. Again, I haven’t spoken to them about this issue so I’m only conjecturing here, but there is also some accuracy issues that I think might be troubling to family members where the bottom line is the truth about how their loved ones were killed.”

 

“Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger” is currently showing on Netflix.

 

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Post Author: Brenda Clemons

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