Warner Bros. finally issues an official response to the ongoing backlash against the violence found in Joaquin Phoenix's standalone DC movie Joker. When a Joker origin movie was first announced, many fans were skeptical. After all, one of the Joker's calling cards in many of his incarnations is just how mysterious his personal background tends to be. Some wondered if delving into his past would serve to demystify the character, but the confirmation that Joker wouldn't be connected to the DCEU at large helped assuage that worry. The subsequent casting of Oscar winner Joaquin Phoenix as the titular madman helped turn the trepidation of some into full blown excitement.
Of course, now that Joker is just over a week away from its U.S. theatrical release, there seems to be just as much preemptive criticism of the film as there is hype, particularly when it comes to the violence on display. Some critics also contest the idea of making a psychotic villain like The Joker into a sympathetic protagonist, worrying that a subset of viewers might be inspired to duplicate his behavior.
In the current age of near-weekly mass shootings in the U.S., those worries are understandable, especially following the incident in 2012 in which a gunman dressed like The Joker massacred victims during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Now, Warner Bros. has seen fit to officially respond to the backlash against Joker (via Variety), and their full statement can be read below.
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.
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. At the same time, Warner Bros. believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues.
It's important to note that Warner Bros. finally responding to the Joker backlash was brought on by a letter sent to the studio by some of those effected by the aforementioned Aurora, Colorado mass shooting. The letter didn't ask Warner Bros. to cancel the film's release, but did push the company to use its huge platform to get more involved in the gun control debate. As seen above, WB stopped short of making such commitments, which included pledging to not donate to politicians backed by the NRA.
While it's definitely no one's place to tell survivors of a mass shooting how they should feel about any particular violent film, especially one involving a character their assailant dressed up as, the overall backlash against Joker does seem to be a bit overblown. There was no reason not to expect an R-Rated movie about a killer clown to be extremely violent, and it was clear from the beginning that Joker (and his civilian identity Arthur Fleck) would be the focus of the piece. Villainous protagonists are also quite common these days. None of those things are recent revelations. Additionally, since Joker hasn't even come out yet, it's fair to say that the majority of those who've hopped onto the anti-Joker bandwagon haven't even seen it for themselves.
- Joker (2019) release date: Oct 04, 2019
- Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020) release date: Feb 07, 2020
- Wonder Woman 1984 (2020) release date: Jun 05, 2020
- The Batman (2021) release date: Jun 25, 2021
- The Suicide Squad (2021) release date: Aug 06, 2021
- DC Super Pets (2022) release date: May 20, 2022
- Aquaman 2 (2022) release date: Dec 16, 2022