With the impending release of Warner Bros. “The Joker”, gun control activist Igor Volsky and five individuals who lost family members in the Aurora, Colorado attack at a showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” have penned a letter to the studio demanding that the company “end political contributions to candidates who take money from the NRA and vote against gun reform” and instead work to pass gun control laws at the federal level.
The letter, addressed to new Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff, does not seek to halt the release of the film nor to rally gun critics to boycott it. Rather, it asks 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. Keeping everyone safe should be a top corporate priority for Warner Brothers.”
The letter states that the shooting was “perpetrated by a socially isolated individual who felt ‘wronged’ by society” and acted. “As a result, we have committed ourselves to ensuring that no other family ever has to go through the absolute hell we have experienced and the pain we continue to live with. Trust us, it does not go away.”
A Warner Bros. spokesperson says the studio has not yet received the letter. “We cannot comment on a letter we have not seen,” the rep adds.
In addition to demanding Warner Bros. start financially backing gun control groups, some of the individuals involved in the letter have an issue with “The Joker” being made in the first place, though they’re not calling for the film to be pulled. Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was murdered in the attack on the Aurora theater, called the film “a slap in the face”, and said she worries that the anti-hero could inspire someone to violence.
“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 says.
Phillips’ concern is echoed by Daniel Oates, who was chief of police in Aurora at the time of the attack.
Nevertheless, says Oates, “Every time there is a mass shooting or, in the collective media culture, a portrayal of a mass shooting or an evil character who engages in the wanton, random, senseless killing of innocents, we are all traumatized again.” Sandy Phillips expands on that: “For me, it’s the gratuitous violence that this film glorifies and elevates with the Joker character.”
I sympathize with Oates, Phillips, and anyone else who is bothered by gratuitous violence and a popular culture that thrives on the anti-hero, but where do you draw the line? HBO had a long-running and successful show with a serial killer as the protagonist. “Breaking Bad” gave us the story of Walter Olson, the drug kingpin who just wanted to get his family on solid financial ground before he died of cancer. Quintin Tarantino’s been churning out gratuitously violent movies for over 20 years now. I’m old enough to remember concern over Natural Born Killers, the Oliver Stone-directed film with a story by Tarantino that was going to inspire killing sprees because Woody Harrelson and Juliette Lewis made psychopathy so darn appealing. Let’s be honest; those troubled or twisted souls who may be inspired by a movie or TV show have plenty of options to choose from.
I’m going to stand up for Hollywood here, even though Hollywood tried to silence me and my colleagues at NRATV. I’m still bummed that Jim Gaffigan, one of my favorite comedians, ended up blocking me on Twitter after I pointed out my disappointment that a guy who talks into a microphone for a living would try to silence others. However, I think Gaffigan has the right to play a villain named “Cam” (what a coincidence!) in his latest movie, even though the case could be made that the role could inspire those in desperate financial straits to commit a kidnapping to earn money.
We’ve already seen Universal cancel The Hunt, which was supposed to open in theaters this weekend. The tale of ultra-wealthy liberals who kidnap and hunt “Deplorables” was cancelled in the wake of the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, with the studio explaining:
“We stand by our filmmakers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film.”
Perhaps Universal will release the film straight to DVD and streaming services, or maybe it’ll just stay locked away forever. In one sense, it’s no big loss to culture if The Hunt never sees the light of day, or even if The Joker were to be pulled from theaters. In the glut of entertainment options, few will remember, much less miss, a movie that never played. But if we’ve decided that it’s just too dangerous for our movies, TV shows, books, and other art forms to feature villains that aren’t cartoonishly simple and one-dimensional, then we’ve lost something truly important; the ability to tell stories about the world as it is, not just as we wish it to be.