‘Joker’ Controversy Hits Fever Pitch As Aurora Shooting Victims’ Families Write Powerful Letter To Warner Bros
Strange to think the most controversial movie in 2019 would be based on what used to be a very silly comic book character, but here we are.
In case you’ve missed the Wagnerian trailers or Internet hubbub, Joker is the latest DC Comics property to get a movie from Warner Bros.
It’s completely unrelated to Wonder Woman and Justice League and whatever the Robert Pattinson/Jonah Hill Batman movie is going to be. In this twisted world, Joker — played by a scarily thin, 50 lbs lighter Joaquin Phoenix — is the hero of the story, a man driven by all the ugliness and cruelty of the world to get revenge… by murdering a lot of people in very public massacres.
Yeah, it’s not sounding like the best message…
The script leaked before production even began, so opinions have been flying around the Internet about this flick for months, with many saying it aggrandizes incel rage into some sort of noble violent purpose.
Considering the many incidents of mass murder committed by misogyny-driven killers, from 1989’s École Polytechnique massacre to 2014’s Isla Vista killings, the concern this film will inspire real-life violence is not an idle one.
After seeing the finished product, many respected movie critics are not completely dismissing the idea. As Vulture‘s David Edelstein wrote:
“…it exalts its protagonist and gives him the origin story of his dreams, in which killing is a just — and artful — response to a malevolently indifferent society. Arthur/Joker might be repulsive, but in a topsy-turvy universe, repulsive is attractive. I’m not arguing that Joker will inspire killings (it might, but so might a lot of other things) — only that it panders to selfish, small-minded feelings of resentment…”
Others have expressed admiration for the film; it won the top award, the Golden Lion, at the Venice International Film Festival.
Joaquin himself has rejected the idea the film could incite violence, saying he doesn’t think it’s up to movies to express ideas about morality:
“I don’t think it’s the responsibility of a filmmaker to, you know, teach the audience morality or the difference between right or wrong, I mean, I think that’s obvious.”
That kind of ignores the idea films can have any impact on our worldview, doesn’t it? Not only does that go against the idea of stories being used as vessels for moral lessons throughout human history, it is also seemingly disproved pretty thoroughly by the more recent history of propaganda in the early 20th century. However, his next point is well made:
“I think if you have somebody that has that level of emotional disturbance, I think that they can find fuel anywhere.”
While that’s certainly true to an extent — the Son of Sam killer infamously said his neighbor’s dog told him to commit his murders — that doesn’t completely absolve filmmakers (or indeed politicians) of a responsibility to not actively fan the flames of inciting violence, does it?
You can see his full response (below):
It’s a tough question all around for sure.
One particular group taking an interest in this controversy? The family and friends of the victims of the Aurora shooting.
As you may recall, 2012’s opening night screening of The Dark Knight Rises turned tragic when a man entered a crowded theater and opened fire with an AR-15 and more weapons, killing 12 people and injuring 70 more. (At the time, it was the most casualties ever in a single shooting in the US, though that record has since been broken twice.)
What’s more, the killer had dyed his hair orange and reportedly told law enforcement officials to call him “The Joker.”
So you can see why survivors of this particular massacre might be a little on edge about the movie.
In an open letter addressed to Warners CEO and chairperson Ann Sarnoff, a few parents and other kin have communicated their concern, saying presenting the mass murdering Joker “as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story” gave them pause. They reminded the studio their own “Joker” was also “a socially isolated individual who felt ‘wronged’ by society.”
The letter is signed by Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, parents of 24-year-old victim Jessica Ghawi; Theresa Hoover, mother of 18-year-old victim Alexander J. Boik; Heather Dearman, cousin of Ashley Moser, who lost an unborn child and whose 6-year-old daughter was killed; and Tiina Coon, mother of a witness to the shootings.
They aren’t asking for the film to be shelved but instead asking WB to accompany their release by throwing their money and platform behind real-life laws which could do some real 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.”
Wow, really well put.
By not asking for the film to be censored, the families are skirting the arguments made in defense of the film’s artistic integrity altogether. Instead they’re asking for the one thing which every study has definitively shown will lower the number of deaths by mass shooting:
“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 simple, common sense solution which seems to work in all the other civilized countries around the world in which people continue to watch violent movies, play violent video games, listen to death metal and gangsta rap, and yet consistently have fewer mass shootings. Bans of military-style weapons in the hands of civilians.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 289 mass shootings in the United States in 2019 alone, with 335 people killed and 1,219 more injured.
“Since the federal government has failed to pass reforms that raise the standard for gun ownership in America, large companies like Warner Brothers have a responsibility to act.”
Specifically the Aurora families are asking Warner Bros to stop giving money to politicians who refuse to pass such common sense gun reform, to use their platform to lobby for gun reform, and to fund survivor groups and intervention programs.
Seems fair, considering Joker is currently tracking to set a record October opening weekend of $80 million at the box office.
BTW, that record weekend will not be helped by money from the Aurora theater where the shooting took place.
According to Deadline, both Cinemark and the studio came to a mutual decision not to have the film play at the site of the shooting, the Century Aurora and XD (previously known as the Century 16).
What do YOU think about what the family members are asking?
Read the full letter from the Aurora victims’ families (below) and let us know what YOU think about this controversy.
Dear Ann Sarnoff,
We are the family members and friends of the 12 people killed at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises on July 20, 2012. This tragic event, perpetrated by a socially isolated individual who felt “wronged” by society has changed the course of our lives.
As a result, we have committed ourselves to ensuring that no other family ever has to go through the absolute hell we have experienced and the pain we continue to live with. Trust us, it does not go away.
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.
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.
Since the federal government has failed to pass reforms that raise the standard for gun ownership in America, large companies like Warner Brothers have a responsibility to act. We certainly hope that you do.
[Image via Warner Bros/YouTube .]