Guns Down America is a gun control group whose website says it is, “running campaigns to weaken the gun industry, the gun lobby, and the lawmakers who support them.” In partnership with family members of people killed in the Aurora mass shooting in 2012, Guns Down sent a letter to Warner Brothers earlier today demanding the company support broader gun control efforts. The connection here is that Warner Brothers is the studio that produced “Joker,” which comes out a week from this Friday. The 2012 mass shooting took place in a movie theater at a screening of The Dark Knight. Here’s the full letter:
1. This morning, working with @MamaRedfield and other survivors of the Aurora, CO shooting, we sent a letter to @warnerbros — the studio behind @jokermovie — asking the company to lean into gun reform. pic.twitter.com/G71XckAUEF
— igorvolsky (@igorvolsky) September 24, 2019
As you can see, the letter demands that Warner Bros. stop all political contributions to anyone who also takes money from the NRA. It also demands the company lobby Congress on behalf of gun control. And finally, it demands the company support “gun violence intervention programs.”
Warner Bros. released a statement in response this afternoon. The letter says the company is already donating to help victims and supports congressional gun control efforts, but does not commit to withholding money from candidates who take money from the NRA or to lobbying congress. One of the parents behind the gun control letter said the WB response was “not good enough.”
— Sandy Phillips (@MamaRedfield) September 24, 2019
None of this back and forth is happening in a vacuum. Since the first Joker trailer was released earlier this year, there have been think-pieces at various outlets suggesting the film might be problematic. For instance, this piece at the Independent:
It bears reminding that the Joker is, at his core, a psychopath, a mass murderer, a terrorist, and an all-around bad guy. His portrayal varies slightly from one film to the next, and from one comic book to the next, but you can be pretty sure that at some point he’s going to commit a crime and/or kill someone, and that he will enjoy it. He’s the quintessential toxic man…
I worry – not to the point that it’s keeping me up at night, but still – that some toxic guy will watch this film and think: “See? There’s nothing wrong with me. There is beauty in my chaos. I am the chaos. I am the beauty. The ends justify the means.”
More recently, a critique of the film (which no one has seen yet) made the rounds on Twitter and was RT’d and liked tens of thousands of times: “I don’t want to see a movie that idolizes the Joker when there are plenty of easily armed f**kboys who already think he has the right idea, without adding a tragic backstory to elicit sympathy.”
Why the Joker movie is problematic. Rachel Miller nails it. pic.twitter.com/vTHlVOBHCY
— Heather Antos (@HeatherAntos) September 5, 2019
The family members who spoke to the Hollywood Reporter about the letter to Warner Bros. seem to be echoing those concerns:
In an interview, Sandy Phillips says that Joker, which centers on the isolated and mentally ill antihero who becomes Batman’s eventual arch-nemesis, is “like a slap in the face.” She adds that she’s concerned about audiences connecting to and even emulating the film’s protagonist in a 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.
Last week, Joaquin Phoenix, who stars in the film as the Joker, walked out on an interview after he was asked if the film might lead someone to violence. In a subsequent interview with IGN, Phoenix said, “Well, I think that, for most of us, you’re able to tell the difference between right and wrong. 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.” Todd Phillips, the film’s director, told IGN, “The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world. I think people can handle that message.”
For now, it doesn’t appear that Warner Bros. is going to give in to the pressure to become gun control crusaders on the grounds that their new film, which no one has yet seen, might inspire a real killer. Anything is possible in a world where some people really are crazy, but we don’t need to dignify the opinions of the deranged among us by giving them de facto veto power over what the vast majority of us can see and do. That applies to movies as well as owning guns.
Update: From Gizmodo:
The U.S. military has warned service members about the potential for a mass shooter at screenings of the Warner Bros. film Joker, which has sparked wide concerns from, among others, the families of those killed during the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado.
The U.S. Army confirmed on Tuesday that the warning was widely distributed after social media posts related to extremists classified as “incels,” were uncovered by intelligence officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Here’s the first part of the warning:
Posts on social media have made reference to involuntary celibate (“incel”) extremists replicating the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, at screenings of the Joker movie at nationwide theaters. This presents a potential risk to DOD personnel and family members, though there are no known specific credible threats to the opening of the Joker on 4 October.
Hopefully, the FBI is having a talk with anyone making such threats on social media.