The upcoming “Joker” movie has already sparked a backlash, with loved ones of those who were killed during the 2012 Aurora movie theater shooting calling for the studio behind the film to take a stand against gun violence.
Twelve people were killed and dozens more injured after a gunman opened fire during a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2002. Although the Joker character was not in that particular film in the “Batman” franchise, the character was quickly linked to the violent event after inaccurate reports spread that the shooter, whose hair was dyed a bright orange, told authorities that he was the Joker.
Now, some who lost loved ones during the shooting are concerned that the latest retelling of the Joker’s story will send the wrong message to audiences, and have reached out to Warner Brothers Studios expressing their concern, The New York Times reports.
“When we learned that Warner Bros. was releasing a movie called ‘Joker’ that presents the character as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story, it gave us pause,” their letter reads.
“We want to be clear that we support your right to free speech and free expression. But as anyone who has ever seen a comic book movie can tell you: With great power comes great responsibility. That’s why we’re calling on you to use your massive platform and influence to join us in our fight to build safer communities with fewer guns.”
The letter, addressed to Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff, was written by five people whose loved ones were either killed during the 2012 shooting or witnessed it, according to NBC News. It asks the studio to do their part to end gun violence and lays out how that can be done: lobby for gun reform and refuse to donate money to politicians who accept funds from the National Rifle Association, donating instead to organizations that help those who have been harmed by gun violence, according to the network.
“We are calling on you to be a part of the growing chorus of corporate leaders who understand that they have a social responsibility to keep us all safe,” reads their plea.
The film, which hits theaters on Oct. 4, seems to portray the Joker character as a mentally ill man whose struggle with loneliness eventually erupts into violence, but despite the accolades the film has garnered ahead of its release, some critics have already predicted that the story could be a dangerous one.
It’s a concern that Sandy Phillips, whose daughter was killed during the Aurora shooting, shares.
“My worry is that one person who may be out there — and who knows if it is just one — who is on the edge, who is wanting to be a mass shooter, may be encouraged by this movie. And that terrifies me,” she told The Hollywood Reporter.
However, in response, Warner Bros. reminded the letter’s authors of their “long history of donating to victims of violence, including Aurora,” according to NBC News.
“At the same time, Warner Bros. believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues,” reads their response. “Make no mistake: neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind. It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.”
Todd Phillips, the film’s director, staunchly defended his work during a recent interview with IGN, asking audiences to go into it with an “open mind.”
“The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world. I think people can handle that message,” he said.
Speaking to the same outlet, the film’s star, Joaquin Phoenix, expressed a similar viewpoint, remarking, “Well, I think that, for most of us, you're able to tell the difference between right and wrong. And those that aren't are capable of interpreting anything in the way that they may want to.”
“People misinterpret lyrics from songs. They misinterpret passages from books,” he continued. “So I don't think it's the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality or the difference between right or wrong. I mean, to me, I think that that's obvious.”
Phoenix made headlines this week when reports spread that he’d walked out of an interview after being asked about the possibility of the film sparking real-world violence, but the actor reportedly returned after speaking to a publicist and told the outlet that he hadn’t considered such a question before, according to NBC News.
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