Some of the family members of the victims of the 2012 shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater have sent a letter to Warner Bros. expressing concern about the storyline of the upcoming Joker and calling on the studio to support their fight against gun violence.
The upcoming film, starring Joaquin Phoenix in the role Heath Ledger embodied in The Dark Knight Rises, the film playing during the shooting, features a storyline that has unfortunate echoes of the Aurora killer, centered as it is on a mistreated outcast who sets out on a killing spree.
But instead of asking to cancel the film’s release or calling for a boycott the family members are asking the studio to “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 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.”
Twelve people died and dozens of others were injured in the 2012 shooting.
Sandy Phillips, who lost her daughter in the shooting, called the film “a slap in the face” in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
“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 continued.
Phoenix and director Todd Phillips have pushed back on this line of thought in promotional appearances for the film.
“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,” Phoenix said.
Phillips agreed: “To me, art can be complicated and oftentimes art is meant to be complicated. If you want uncomplicated art, you might want to take up calligraphy, but filmmaking will always be a complicated art.”
It’s worth mentioning that survivor Pierce O’Farrill, who’s suffered from PTSD since the shooting, says he wants to see the movie (though likely not in a theater), and Tom Sullivan, who lost his son in the shooting, doesn’t believe the film with “jumpstart somebody” to become violent.
An unimpeachably good idea is that the Aurora Cinemark, where the shooting took place, will not screen Joker.
The film will debut in theaters elsewhere on October 4.