Families of Aurora shooting victims fear new Joker movie could inspire violence

Joaquin Phoenix as the Joker
Warner Brothers

Family members of the victims of the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting have penned a letter to Warner Bros. voicing their concerns about Todd Phillips’ new Joker movie, set for release on October 4, fearing that it could inspire more violence.

The Hollywood Reporter reports that five family members sent the letter to the film company on Tuesday.

“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 reads, according to a copy obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. The families have called on Warner Brothers to donate to nonprofits that help the victims of gun violence.

The Hollywood Reporter also reports that the Century Aurora and XD, formerly known as the Aurora Cinemark theater, where the mass shooting took place, will not show the Todd Phillip’s Joker.

On July 20, 2012, James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 others at Aurora Cinemark theater. The shooting took place during a midnight screening of the Batman film The Dark Knight Rises, the sequel to The Dark Knight, the 2008 film that featured Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker.

Joaquin Phoenix portrays the villain in the latest movie, with critics already calling it “grim, gritty, harsh, and disturbing.” 

Phillip’s Joker looks at the backstory of one of the most famous villains in pop culture, attributing the character’s loner lifestyle and need to be liked to his eventual transformation into the Joker audiences have come to know. The letter compares the Joker’s backstory to many of those who have gone on to commit mass shootings. In the letter, the families state that the shooting was “perpetrated by a socially isolated individual who felt ‘wronged’ by society.”

Sandy Phillips, (who is not related to director Todd Phillips) is the mother of Jessica Ghawi, who was killed in the Aurora mass murder. Her nonprofit group, Survivors Empowered, worked with other victims’ families to craft the letter that was sent to Warner Bros. She told The Hollywood Reporter that in today’s cultural climate where guns and mass shootings have become commonplace, she’s concerned about the new Joker movie. 

“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 told The Hollywood Reporter. 

The only other film featuring the Joker to debut since the shooting was Suicide Squad in 2016, but Jared Leto’s version of the character only had a minor role in the film.

Warner Bros. released an official statement to Variety, saying, “Make no mistake: neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind. It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.”

“Gun violence in our society is a critical issue, and we extend our deepest sympathy to all victims and families impacted by these tragedies,” the statement continues. “Our company has a long history of donating to victims of violence, including Aurora, and in recent weeks, our parent company joined other business leaders to call on policymakers to enact bi-partisan legislation to address this epidemic. At the same time, Warner Bros. believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues.”

Digital Trends reached out to Warner Bros. for further comment, but we haven’t yet received a response. 

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