Just days out from its big premiere, Warner Bros.’ standalone DC film “Joker” has some communities on edge, with law enforcement officials in both Los Angeles and New York City, and even military officials on some bases, taking preventative action in fear of another Joker-inspired mass shooting.
The fictional villain’s popularity among the all-too-real “incel” extremists and the nightmarish memory of the 2012 mass shooting at a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado has sparked increased controversy ahead of the release of the film this week. Five family members of victims of the Aurora shooting, which left 12 people dead and 70 injured, sent a letter last week to Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff calling on the studio to “be a part of the growing chorus of corporate leaders who understand that they have a social responsibility to keep us all safe” and “end political contributions to candidates who take money from the NRA and vote against gun reform.”
Around the same time that the letter to the studio was being penned, military officials issued warnings to service members about potential attacks at screenings of the highly anticipated film. “Posts on social media have made reference to involuntary celibate (‘incel’) extremists replicating the 2012 theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, at screenings of the Joker movie at nationwide theaters,” a September 18 memo from U.S. Army officials to service members warned. “This presents a potential risk to DOD personnel and family members, though there are no known specific credible threats to the opening of the Joker on 4 October.” As reported by Gizmodo, a separate memo sent by Army officials a few days later said Texas law enforcement presented “credible” intelligence of such a threat.
The latest development in the “Joker” controversy involves law enforcements officials in both New York City and Los Angeles. The New York Post reported Monday that NYPD Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison “has directed all the city’s precincts to provide police coverage at Big Apple theaters showing the movie.”
“The thriller starring Joaquin Phoenix will be screened Wednesday at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center during the New York Film Festival, and officers have been instructed to cover,” the paper reported, citing police sources. “According to sources, uniformed patrol cops will also be sent to AMC theaters throughout the city for screenings of the comic book-inspired movie, which officially opens in theaters across the country Friday, but is showing in some city theaters Thursday.”
Like Army officials specified in the September 18 memo, the New York City Police Department told The Hollywood Reporter that they have no knowledge of any “specific or credible threats at this time,” but felt compelled to prepare for potential violence due to the associations with the film.
“There are no specific or credible threats at this time and these events will continue to be closely monitored,” the NYPD told the outlet. “Any additional personnel will be deployed as needed.”
THR notes that the report of the NYPD’s precautionary moves follows Los Angeles police announcing that its department would take similar action “in the wake of a wave of unease the dark Warner Bros. film has evoked for some after three more mass shootings took place over the summer and in light of the film’s indirect connection to a mass shooting that took place seven years ago.”
In a statement Friday, LAPD also stressed that there are “no credible threats” reported in the area. The department is “aware of public concerns and the historical significance associated with the premiere of Joker,” LAPD told the outlet. “While there are no credible threats in the Los Angeles area, the department will maintain high visibility around theaters when it opens.”
Additionally, at least one theater has decided not to show the film at all: the theater in Aurora where the 2012 massacre took place.
The criticism surrounding the film has revolved mainly around concerns about glorifying or inspiring more “incel” violence. The September 18 Army memo, which highlighted the “incel” threat, described them as “individuals who express frustration from perceived disadvantages to starting intimate relationships” and who “idolize violent individuals like the Aurora movie theater shooter” and “the Joker character, the violent clown from the Batman series.”
Warner Bros. responded to the increased pressure in a statement last week.
“Gun violence in our society is a critical issue, and we extend our deepest sympathy to all victims and families impacted by these tragedies,” the statement reads. “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. 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.”