Warner Bros. is breaking its silence on the controversy surrounding Joker.
“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 obtained by EW reads. “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. 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.”
The family members previously said they remain haunted by “absolute hell and pain” over the 2012 shooting, in which a gunman wearing body armor and armed with multiple weapons killed 12 and injured scores of others. In the film, the DC Comics villain played by Joaquin Phoenix is presented as a mistreated outcast who goes on a killing spree.
“[The Aurora shooting], perpetrated by a socially isolated individual who felt ‘wronged’ by society, has changed the course of our lives,” reads the letter. “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.”
The group isn’t asking the studio to halt the film’s release, however, or urging a boycott. Instead, they’re asking the studio donate to groups that help victims of gun violence, as well as “end political contributions to candidates who take money from the NRA and vote against gun reform” and “use your political clout and leverage in Congress to actively lobby for gun reform.”
“We want to be clear that we support your right to free speech and free expression,” the letter adds. “But as anybody who has 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… keeping everyone safe should be a top corporate priority for Warner Brothers.”
The Aurora theater where the shooting took place is reportedly not screening the film.
Joker, which opens Oct. 5, took the top prize at the Venice Film Festival this year and has resulted in Oscar buzz for Phoenix. The film currently has a 76 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, though several critics (including at EW) have expressed concerns about the film.
Both director Phillips and Phoenix have defended the movie, IGN reported.
“Well, I think that, for most of us, you’re able to tell the difference between right and wrong,” Phoenix has said. “And those that aren’t are capable of interpreting anything in the way that they may want to. People misinterpret lyrics from songs. They misinterpret passages from books. 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.”
“To me, art can be complicated and oftentimes art is meant to be complicated,” Phillips added. “If you want uncomplicated art, you might want to take up calligraphy, but filmmaking will always be a complicated art.”
The Aurora shooting took place during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises and has been linked in media reports over the years to the Batman franchise with many speculating the orange-haired shooter was inspired by the Joker or the villain Bane. But a Denver Post story in 2015 concluded the shooter “was never ‘the Joker’” and such speculation was due to “erroneous early reports.” The case’s prosecutor George Brauchler called those stories, “completely unfounded … [The shooting] had nothing to do that we can find with Batman.”