The families of those killed or injured during a mass shooting in a Colorado cinemas in 2012 have shared their concerns about the upcoming release of Joker, asking Warner Bros. to donate to groups that aid victims of gun violence.
On 20 July, 2012, James Holmes stormed the Aurora Cinemark multiplex cinema armed with multiple guns, murdering 12 people and injuring 70 during a showing of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. At the time, the media drew comparisons between Holmes and the Joker as the killer’s hair was dyed bright red.
Daniel Oates, Aurora’s chief of police at the time, maintains "there is no evidence" that Holmes was inspired by the Batman character.
Family members of those killed in 2012 have signed a letter addressed to Warner Bros. (and reported by The Hollywood Reporter) asking the studio to consider their “social responsibility” as the release of Todd Phillips’s Joker looms on 4 October.
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The film, based on the DC Comics character, focusses on Joaquin Phoenix’s socially isolated Arthur Fleck, a loner and wannabe comedian who turns to violence as he transforms into the Batman nemesis. There have already been concerns raised that the film may lead to copycat incidents with people emulating the character’s actions.
Century Aurora and XD, the reconstructed venue where the shooting took place, have both reportedly decided to not show the film.
"We are calling on you to be a part of the growing chorus of corporate leaders who understand that they have a social responsibility to keep us all safe," reads the letter, which is signed by, amongst others, Sandy Phillips, whose 24-year-old daughter Jessica Ghawi was killed in the shooting.
Phillips and her husband Lonnie created Survivors Empowered, a nonprofit group, in the wake of the tragedy. The group worked with gun control advocacy group Guns Down America to write the letter that was signed by five family members of victims and sent to the Hollywood studio today.
"I don’t need to see a picture of [Holmes]; I just need to see a Joker promo and I see a picture of the killer," Phillips told THR.
She describes the film as being “like a slap in the face”.
The letter, addressed to new Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff, does not seek a boycott. Instead 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."
A spokesperson for Warner Bros. said the company had not yet received the letter and could not comment.
Former chief of police Daniel Oates said "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 traumatised again."
Phillips adds: "For me, it's the gratuitous violence that this film glorifies and elevates with the Joker character."
Not all families affected by the 2012 shooting support the move.
Tom Sullivan, whose 27-year-old son Alex was killed, says he doesn’t think Joker will "jumpstart somebody” to commit violence.
"I don’t think that seeing something is the catalyst to, ‘OK, that is what I am going to start to do,'" says Sullivan, now a Democratic state representative in Colorado.
In 2015 Holmes was convicted of 24 counts of first-degree murder and is now serving life in prison with no possibility of parole