Warner Bros. has responded to a letter sent to studio CEO Ann Sarnoff from the families of the 2012 Aurora shooting victims, calling gun violence a “critical issue,” but also saying that the film is not meant to endorse real-world violence or hold up the supervillain as a sympathetic 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. 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,” a representative from Warner Bros. said in a statement. “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.”
Earlier Tuesday, five family members of victims from the Aurora, Colorado shooting sent a letter, as obtained by the The Hollywood Reporter, calling on Warner Bros. to take action on gun reform and make a donation to charities that support victims of gun violence. The family members did not call for the film to be pulled from theaters.
“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 letter says, noting the “absolute hell” that they had endured since a gunman shot and killed 12 people during a screening of Warner Bros.’ “Dark Knight Rises.”
The letter continued: “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 continues, calling on the company — now a division of AT&T — to lobby Congress for “gun reform” and stop political contributions to politicians accepting money from the NRA. In addition, the letter called for contributions to unspecified “survivor funds and gun-violence intervention programs.”
Sandy Phillips, whose daughter died during the shooting, was among the signers. She worked with Igor Volsky of the gun control advocacy group Guns Down America to craft the letter.
“Joker” is the origin story of the iconic Batman villain as portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix and directed by Todd Phillips. The film depicts the character before he became the psychotic mastermind and how he struggles as a stand-up comedian. Since it made its premiere and won the top prize at the Venice Film Festival, the movie has been called divisive by critics in its portrayal of realistic violence and of its title character.
On Tuesday, Page Six reported that the film’s star Joaquin Phoenix walked out of a recent interview with The Telegraph in the UK when asked by the paper’s film critic if the character or film could incite fans who have a “mass-shooter mindset.”
In 2015, Colorado shooter James Holmes was ordered to serve 12 life sentences in prison and pay almost $1 million in restitution for the horrific July 2012 rampage that left 12 people dead and 70 injured.