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Families of Victims and Survivors of Aurora Shooting Address Joker Film & Ask Studio to Be Responsible

Actor Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck / Joker in upcoming Joker movie from DC

Warner Bros.’ upcoming Joker movie, starring Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Todd Phillips, has been getting a lot of press because of how some are afraid that the movie might incite violence due to its focus on a white male character who feels disenfranchised and transforms into an agent of chaos.

Phoenix has been asked about this multiple times, and today, The Hollywood Reporter shared that survivors of the Aurora shooting and family of the victims sent a letter to Warner Bros. about their concerns.

In 2012, a shooter attacked a theater in Aurora, Colorado during a screening of The Dark Knight, and as I mentioned in another post addressing my own concerns about Joker, he claimed to have done this due to his dissatisfaction with life and finding work, as well as health issues. In the attack, twelve people were killed, and seventy others were injured.

While the letter is not calling for a boycott or for the movie to be canceled, it does ask Warner Bros. to be responsible in their advocacy. “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,” the letter states, according to THR.

Sandy Phillips, no relation to Joker director Todd Phillips, lost her daughter in the shooting and said, “I don’t need to see a picture of [Holmes]; I just need to see a Joker promo and I see a picture of the killer.” In an interview, Sandy Phillips says that Joker, which depicts the titular character as an isolated and mentally ill antihero, is “like a slap in the face.” She adds that she’s concerned about audiences connecting with and emulating the character in this cultural climate where mass shootings have become commonplace.

“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 says.

A Warner Bros. spokesperson says the studio has not yet received the letter. “We cannot comment on a letter we have not seen,” the rep stated.

Joaquin Phoenix was asked by a Telegraph film critic if the movie could “perversely end up inspiring exactly the kind of people it’s about, with potentially tragic results,” and Phoenix was startled by the question and walked out of the interview. He did later answer the question in another in another interview, saying, “I don’t think it’s the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality or the difference between right or wrong.”

Overall, I am going to wait to see Joker to decide for myself if it treads into crafting empathy for Arthur/Joker, because I think that, to a degree, Phoenix is right; we shouldn’t look to films for teaching morality. However, we are living in a time of high feelings of disenfranchisement for young men, and there is very little media out there trying to address their anxieties without just feeding into nihilism.

Also, if we should have learned anything from the trend of school and mass shooters, sometimes it’s not even done for a reason; it’s done for the infamy of it all—for the chaos—but if we aren’t going actually address the issue in society, then maybe films are going to act it out.

Still, there’s a reason this movie is getting all this attention when there are equally violent, nihilistic movies out. No one is crafting a million think pieces about the latest Rambo and what could be read from that, or even films that are hyper-violent but portray the bad guys as inhuman and therefore not worthy of empathy. Even as I write this, I’m thinking of the body count in movies like Avengers: Endgame or any major blockbuster. We have been slowly numbing ourselves to violence in media for decades, so the difference between Joker and Robocop isn’t just decade; it’s a cultural mentality that are struggling to deal with.

That shouldn’t all be put on Joker‘s doorstep, but sadly, it is the perfect avatar for a lot of fear and anxiety. Let’s see if it earns that status. We’ll all get to read more think pieces about Joker after its October 4th release.

(via Rolling Stone, image: Warner Bros.)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.