Warner Bros. will not show The Joker in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater where a deadly mass shooting occurred during the premiere of the Batman sequel, The Dark Knight Rises in 2012.
According to Deadline, it was a decision made jointly by theater chain Cinemark and the studio.
The Joker is a dark tale of violence and madness, stripped of the character’s more comic bookish characteristics, set in a real-world Gotham City during the 1970s. It appears that the violence inherent in the film has Warner Bros. and the theater chain worried that a copycat shooting could occur. Those worries also extended to some of the family members who lost loved ones during the 2012 shooting.
Jessica Ghawi, Alexander J. Boik, Ashley Moser, and Tiina Coon signed an open letter to Warner Bros. saying that they are wary of the new film and the violence in it. In part, the group said, “when we learned that Warner Bros. was releasing a movie called Joker that presents the character as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story.”
The shooting victims’ family members did not make any specific demands on the distribution of the film, only saying, “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.”
One of the signatories, Sandy Phillips, who lost her 19-year-old daughter, Jessica Ghawi, criticized Joker, saying “I don’t need to see a picture of [the killer Holmes]; I just need to see a Joker promo, and I see a picture of the killer.”
“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,” Phillips added in an interview.
However, the group did demand that the studio refrain from donating money to any political candidate or cause that takes donations from or cooperates with the National Rifle Association.
The letter, as posted by Variety, continues:
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.
Despite the exhortations, it appears that the group does not represent the bulk of the families of other victims. Many other family members apparently refused to sign onto the letter.
Joker director Todd Phillips said fears of violence over the film are being overblown and that people can understand and handle the context of his critically acclaimed movie.
“The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world. I think people can handle that message,” Phillips told the media. “It’s so, to me, bizarre when people say, ‘Oh, well I could handle it. But imagine if you can’t.’ It’s making judgments for other people and I don’t even want to bring up the movies in the past that they’ve said this about because it’s shocking and embarrassing when you go, oh my God, Do the Right Thing, they said that about [that movie, too].”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.