Joker movie concerns

In 2012, a person who dyed his hair and referred to himself as “the Joker” walked into a theater in Aurora, Colorado and murdered twelve moviegoers with a gun during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises.

(Update: Apparently the whole “Joker” connection to the shooter stemmed from this ABC News article, which I thought was legitimate but may have been inaccurate.)

Now, as Todd Phillips‘ new Joker film is about to hit theaters, the families and friends of those victims are calling on Warner Bros. to take action. But they’re not calling for a boycott or a ban of the new movie – instead, they want WB to lobby for gun reform in America.

Plus, Phillips and star Joaquin Phoenix have responded to a question about the film’s ability to incite violence. Learn more below.

“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,” the open letter reads. But even though some critics have expressed concerns that this film could incite violence in some unstable viewers (star Joaquin Phoenix even walked out of an interview when a reporter asked him if the movie might perversely inspire real-life acts of violence), the Aurora victims’ families and friends don’t want the new film to be shelved or suppressed in any way. They’re just hoping that WB wields its considerable power for good:

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.

Over the last several weeks, large American employers from Walmart to CVS have announced that they are going to lean into gun safety. 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.

Specifically, we’re asking you to do the following:
– End political contributions to candidates who take money from the NRA and vote against gun reform. These lawmakers are literally putting your customers and employees in danger.
– Use your political clout and leverage in Congress to actively lobby for gun reform. Keeping everyone safe should be a top corporate priority for Warner Brothers.
– Help fund survivor funds and gun violence intervention programs to help survivors of gun violence and to reduce every-day gun violence in the communities you serve.

This situation is at the center of a Venn diagram of several significant discussion points in our culture right now: whether a studio ever needs to explicitly say that depiction doesn’t equal endorsement, examining corporations’ social responsibility in a time when the government seems incapable of enacting change on its own, and the notion of non-stop coverage about Joker maybe inspiring bad behavior actually inspiring the bad behavior we’re all hoping to avoid. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I’m glad we’re having the conversation.

The Aurora victims’ families should never have been in this position in the first place, but because our government can’t get its act together and pass common sense gun laws, these people find themselves in a position to try to convince one of the biggest movie studios in the world to potentially exert some influence to move the needle in the right direction. THR reports that Joker will not play in the Aurora theater where the murders took place, and the outlet spoke with several of the friends and family members individually to get their comments beyond the group statement; you can read their thoughts about the film here.

As for Phillips and Phoenix, they recently answered questions about the film’s potential to incite violence in an interview with IGN, where Phoenix said:

“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. 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…I think if you have somebody that has that level of emotional disturbance, they can find fuel anywhere. I just don’t think that you can function that way.”

“It’s so, to me, bizarre when people say, ‘Oh, well I could handle it. But imagine if you can’t’,” Phillips said. “It’s making judgments for other people…to me, art can be complicated and oftentimes art is meant to be complicated. If you want uncomplicated art, you might want to take up calligraphy, but filmmaking will always be a complicated art.”

The open letter was addressed to Ann Sarnoff, the new CEO of Warner Bros. A WB representative told THR it has the studio has not yet received the letter, and they cannot respond to something they haven’t seen. If the studio does respond, we’ll update this piece.

Update: WB has responded, and you can read the studio’s full statement here.

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