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Warner Bros defends Joker film after families of 2012 cinema shooting victims express concern

At a late-night screening of a Batman film in 2012, a gunman killed 12 and injured 70 people.

WARNER BROS HAS denied its new film Joker portrays its murderous protagonist as a hero, after families of the victims of the Aurora cinema mass shooting in 2012 wrote an open letter expressing their concern.

The new movie features Joaquin Phoenix as the titular character and has been billed as a “character study” of Batman’s nemesis. 

Its release comes seven years after a gunman entered a movie theatre in Colorado during the screening of a Batman film, killing 12 and wounding 70. 

Source: Warner Bros. Pictures/YouTube

Last week, Phoenix was said to have walked out of an interview with a reporter for The Telegraph when asked if he was “worried” the film would inspire “exactly the kind of people it’s about”. 

Five members of the Aurora victims’ families wrote an open letter in Hollywood trade publications yesterday ahead of the release of Joker. 

“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,” it said. 

The film depicts the Joker as a severely depressed young man trying to build a career as a stand-up comic, but who is constantly rejected and beaten by society until taking matters into his own hands in an extremely violent manner.

In their letter, the Aurora families noted that their real-life tragedy had been “perpetrated by a socially isolated individual who felt ‘wronged’ by society.”

While the open letter did not condemn the film, and expressed support for “free speech and free expression,” it urged the Hollywood studio to use its platform to lobby for gun reform and support victims.

In response, Warner said “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.

Warner described gun violence as a “critical issue” and said it had donated to victims and supported gun control legislation.

“At the same time, Warner Bros believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues,” it added.

Gun control

The film is being released as debates around gun control in the US have been thrown into sharper focus following the fatal shootings of 22 people in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio last month.

Most presidential candidates, including Democratic frontrunner Joe Biden, are calling for a new assault weapons ban. Candidate Beto O’Rourke has gone further, calling for a mandatory buyback program for assault weapons.

The Aurora shooting was carried out during a packed screening of The Dark Knight Rises, in a meticulously-planned attack during which shooter James Holmes wore body armor and used tear gas to prevent victims from escaping.

Reports at the time said Holmes told authorities he was The Joker, Batman’s sworn enemy in the comic book series.

Aurora police now say there is no evidence Holmes – who appeared in court with brightly dyed hair similar to the character – said that. Holmes is serving life in prison.

Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was among those killed, wrote on Twitter that Warner’s response was “not good enough”.

Joker is released in theatres on 4 October.

With reporting from AFP

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Sean Murray

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