BBC News is reporting families of those killed while watching a Batman film in 2012 have written a letter to Warner Bros with concerns about the new Joker film and urging the studio to join action against gun violence.
Sandy Phillips, whose young daughter was one of 12 people killed during The Dark Knight showing, said: “When I first saw the trailers of the movie, I was absolutely horrified . And then when I dug a little deeper and found out that it had such unnecessary violence in the movie, it just chilled me to my bones. It just makes me angry that a major motion picture company isn’t taking responsibility and doesn’t have the concern of the public at all.”
The families’ letter said: “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.
“We support your right to free speech and free expression. But as anyone who has ever 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 with fewer guns.”
The letter asked the studio to lobby for gun reform, help fund survivor funds and gun violence intervention schemes, and end political contributions to candidates who take money from the National Rifle Association.
Warner Bros says the Joker film – which stars Joaquin Phoenix – is not an endorsement of real-world violence yet early reviews indicate it may come close to that line. Time magazine’s Stephanie Zacharek says it’s guilty of “aggressive and possibly irresponsible idiocy” and that the title character “could easily be adopted as the patron saint of incels.”
David Ehrlich of IndieWire goes further, describing it as a toxic rallying cry for self-pitying incels, directed by a “glorified edgelord who lacks the discipline or nuance to responsibly handle such hazardous material, and who reliably takes the coward’s way out of the narrative’s most critical moments.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. military has warned service members about the potential for a mass shooter at Joker screenings. The U.S. Army confirmed on Tuesday the warning was widely distributed after social media posts related to extremists classified as “incels,” were uncovered by intelligence officials at the Federal Bureau of Investigation. A separate memo, issued on Monday by senior officials in the U.S. Army’s criminal investigation division, stated that the Army had obtained “credible” intelligence from Texas law enforcement officials pertaining to “disturbing and very specific chatter” on the dark web “regarding the targeting of an unknown movie theater during the release.”
For those unfamiliar with the word, ‘incels’ are members of an online subculture who define themselves as unable to find a romantic or sexual partner despite desiring one, a state they describe as inceldom. Discussions in incel forums are often characterized by resentment, misanthropy, self-pity, self-loathing, misogyny, racism, a sense of entitlement to sex, and the endorsement of violence against sexually active people. The American nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center described the subculture as “part of the online male supremacist ecosystem” that is included in their list of hate groups.
At least four mass murders, resulting in 45 deaths, have been committed in North America by men who have either self-identified as incels or who had mentioned incel-related names and writings in their private writings or Internet postings.
The group is also associated with comicsgate, a campaign in opposition to perceived “forced diversity” and progressivism in the content of North American superhero comic books and the kinds of creators who work in the industry. The movement has been described as part of the alt-right movement, and as a harassment campaign which “targets women, people of color, and LGBT folk in the comic book industry”.
The news isn’t all bad, at least from a critical perspective. It currently has a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes where some critics are heralding it as a masterpiece and a “dark evolution for comics-inspired cinema.” From an artistic perspective, Hollywood can’t be held responsible for the actions, or potential actions, of a few misguided people and no one should be calling for this film to be censored in any way beyond the MPAA’s rating. Yet an industry that carries so much influence should want to do something that counters the message some might take away after viewing this film. In these perilous times, no one should present the message Joker does in a way that feels aspirational without paying a price for it, even if that price is only low box office numbers.