Warner Bros. has weighed in on the mounting controversy surrounding “Joker,” an R-rated comic book adaptation that is being criticized for offering an in-depth portrait of a mass killer. In a statement on Tuesday, the studio hit back at suggestions that it is glamorizing a mass murderer.
“Make no mistake: neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind,” the statement reads. “It is not the intention of the film, the filmmakers or the studio to hold this character up as a hero.”
Warner Bros. broke its silence after family members and friends of the victims of a 2012 mass shooting at a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo., wrote a letter to the studio expressing concerns about the film’s upcoming release. The letter supported the studio’s right to make the film and endorsed freedom of speech and artistic expression. However, its writers called on Warner Bros. to take several steps to get involved in the gun control movement, including pledging not to donate to political candidates who take money from the NRA.
Warner Bros. stopped short of agreeing to those calls to action, but it said that the company has a history of supporting those causes.
“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 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.”
The initial letter to Warner Bros. from the families of Aurora victims was signed by Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, a couple whose 24-year-old daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was murdered; Theresa Hoover, the mother of 18-year-old Alexander J. Boik, who was shot and killed; Heather Dearman, whose cousin Ashley Moser, lost an unborn child and a 6-year-old daughter in the attack; and Tiina Coon, whose son was a witness to the shootings. In the letter, they say that the studio’s decision to make a “sympathetic origin story… gave us pause” and, using a maxim made famous from Spider-Man comics, go on to note that “as anyone who has ever seen a comic book movie can tell you: with great power comes great responsibility.”
The shooting in Aurora took place during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” and resulted in 12 deaths and 70 injuries. Warner Bros. produced that film and donated $1 million to charities that benefited families of the victims.
“Joker” centers on an aspiring stand-up comedian whose mental health issues escalate, ultimately leading him to a life of criminality. His offenses inspire others to engage in violent actions and provoke widespread anarchy. The film has received support from many reviewers, particularly for the central performance of Joaquin Phoenix, but some critics took issue with its bloody climax and underlying social message.
Todd Phillips, the film’s director, told IGN that the film doesn’t excuse Joker’s behavior. “The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world,” he said. “I think people can handle that message.”
Movie theaters around the country did not respond to requests for comment about whether or not they were tightening their security procedures in anticipation of “Joker’s” Oct. 4 premiere. However, one knowledgeable insider said exhibitors were mindful of the situation and were closely reviewing their internal security measures.
Rebecca Rubin contributed to this report.