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A look into the controversy surrounding 'Joker'

by Mason Kupiainen With the release of the new film Joker opening in theaters on October 4th, many people have been questioning the movie because of the level of violence the film is supposed to contain. Many people have also been raising concerns about whether or not the film will invoke violence in people, and potentially influence people to cause crime, similar to what the main character does in the movie. These concerns have further been raised when it was announced that the FBI had found on the dark web threats of potential violence towards certain unidentified theaters. With all of this, many people have begun to question whether the film should be shown at all, and if violent movies should even be allowed to be produced.

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To begin, it's worth seeing where many of these concerns stem from. Back on July 20, 2012, a mass shooting took place during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises at a theater in Aurora, Colorado. During the screening, James Holmes, the identified shooter, left the theater out of an emergency exit door, leaving it propped open. He then went out to his car, gathered his things, and returned back into the theater wearing bullet-proof gear, a ballistics helmet, a gas mask, and gloves. He then threw several smoke bombs into the crowd before opening fire onto them, killing 12 people and injuring 70 others.  According to some sources, including an article on ABC News, some claim that after being arrested, Holmes told officers that he was “The Joker”, which was a reference to the villain in the previous movie of the Dark Knight trilogy. In a report by the Denver Post however, they said; “He never told witnesses or arresting officers he was the evil and charismatic villain from the Batman comic strip and movies.” They’ve stated that; “It is not true [and] ridiculous.” and that “It had nothing to do that we can find with Batman.”
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When a standalone movie about the Joker was announced by Warner Bros., many of the victims’ families were alarmed by it. “When we learned that Warner Bros. was releasing a movie...that presents the character as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story, it gave us pause,” wrote one of the family members of a victim in their letter to NBC News. Sandy Philips, who is the mother of one of the victims killed during the shooting, said that the movie feels “like a slap in the face.” She also stated; “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.” Victims of the Aurora shooting and others have begun questioning if the film should even be released at all, with some even asking Warner Bros. to pull the movie from theaters. Warner Bros. released a statement talking about how the company has had a “long history of donating to victims of violence, including Aurora." At the same time, Warner Bros. believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues. They continued saying, “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.” Warner Bros. continues to insist that the movie is not intended to glorify the character, but rather is designed to “provoke difficult conversations around complex issues.” Both Todd Philips and Joaquin Phoenix have responded to the concerns. Todd Philips has asked viewers who intend to watch the movie do so with an “open mind.” In an article on IGN, Philips states, “The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world. I think people can handle that message.” When asked if their movie could “fuel” someone toward wanting to commit a crime, Phoenix said, “I think if you have somebody that has that level of emotional disturbance, they can find fuel anywhere. I just don’t think that you can function that way.” Neither Philips nor Phoenix see this film any differently from any other film that deals with this subject matter, and believe that this movie can stir up conversations about the uncomfortable topics being showcased in the movie. Even with these statements from the studio, director, and lead actor, many people are still concerned about the film and how it could provoke violence. 
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Not long after concerns were raised, the U.S. Army began investigating the movie and potential threats toward movie theaters. According to an article on CNN, the Army sent out a memo about a potent threat toward a movie theater. The Army found discussion on the dark web about a possible violent threat toward an unidentified theater during the film’s release. The Fort Sill Criminal Investigation Command office stated, “At this point, we are not aware of any information indicating a specific, credible threat to a particular location or venue.” It should be known that authorities are not telling people to stay away from the film, but rather to stay alert and aware of their surroundings.  With the controversy and rumors of threats surrounding the movie, some theaters have begun to put bans on certain objects during screenings of Joker. In an article by The Washington Post, they report that Landmark Theaters have placed a ban on costumes, masks, painted faces, and toy guns. AMC theaters are allowing customers to dress in costumes, but they are not allowed to conceal their faces with anything, such as masks or face paint. Some theaters have even opted not to screen the film at all. To no surprise, one such theater is staying clear from screening the movie: the Century 16 theater where The Dark Knight Rises shooting took place. It will be interesting to see how people respond to the film. Those planning on seeing Joker should remember to stay alert, be aware of their surroundings, and report any suspicious activity.

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