Warner Bros. and Cinemark have agreed not to screen Joker at an Aurora movie theater that was the site of a national tragedy in 2012. The news came from a joint announcement which confirmed that the upcoming Joaquin Phoenix-led film will not play at a theater now named the Cinemark Aurora (it was called the Cinemark 16 in 2012), which was where The Dark Knight Rises mass shooting occurred in 2012.
That shooting, which was targeted for its popular midnight screening of the latest Batman movie, left 12 people dead and another 70 wounded. The news comes after multiple families of Aurora victims released an open letter to Ann Sarnoff, WB CEO and chairperson, as well as several Hollywood trades that requested WB use their platform as a major media leader to draw attention to gun control reform in this country. The letter was signed by Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, mother of 24-year-old Jessica Ghawai who died in the 2012 shooting; Theresa Hoover, mother of 18-year-old Alexander J. Boik who died in the shooting; Heather Dearman, whose cousin Ashley Moser lost her unborn child due to injuries in the attack and saw her six-year-old daughter Veronica Moser Sullivan also killed; and Tiina Coon, whose son witnessed the shootings.
“We are the family members and friends of the 12 people killed at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises on July 20, 2012,” the letter reads. “This tragic event, perpetrated by a socially isolated individual who felt ‘wronged’ by society has changed the course of our lives… 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 want to be clear that 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 full letter can be read here at Variety, including their request for WB to end political contributions to any politician who takes money from the NRA, as well as help fund survivor funds and gun violence intervention programs.
Joker, which we reviewed here, is a challenging film that does make the villain a somewhat sympathetic figure—but also a repulsive one. Phoenix portrays an isolated and lonely man who only begins feeling alive when he starts donning clown makeup for fun and eventually begins murdering people. It has been accused in some reviews as being “too dangerous” for our times, and Sandy Phillips, the mother of Jessica Ghawi, who was 24-years-old when she was slain by shooter James Holmes in Aurora, has told The Hollywood Reporter how uncomfortable the film has made her.
“I don’t need to see a picture of [Holmes],” says Phillips. “I just need to see a Joker promo and I see a picture of the killer.”
The film will likely continue this current discussion about media and violence when it is released on Oct. 4. We think they’re worth having, but no matter what, if you actually want to engage with improving the world, please consider donating to these organizations below.