There is nothing funny about the controversies surrounding Warner Brothers' "Joker" movie.
The $55 million film about the rise of Batman's clown-faced arch rival, is forcing Landmark Theatres, the country's largest independent cinema chain, to extending its ban on face masks and toy weapons to include movie-goers wearing any costumes during the film's theatrical run.
Since the 2012 shooting at a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colorado, most movie theaters across the country have not allowed customers or employees to wear face masks and face paint or to carry toy weapons. Body costumes, however, have generally been allowed. "The Dark Knight Rises" featured Batman squaring off against the Joker.
Families of the victims from that shooting have also been asking the Burbank-based studio to take special precautions with the release of this movie including not showing the movie at the theater where the shooting took place seven years ago.
Five families sent a letter to new Warner CEO Ann Sarnoff asking her and 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."
That letter asked for parent company AT&T to cease donating to politicians who take money from the National Rifle Association and for Warner to make donations to groups that aid victims of gun violence. The response outraged those who sent the letter.
“Together with other survivors of the 2012 Aurora shooting, we wrote @warnerbros to express the grief and concern stirred up by their new Joker film. Quite frankly, we found their response lacking,” tweeted Sandy Phillips whose daughter was killed in the mass shooting.
The studio response: “Gun violence in our society is a critical issue, and we extend our deepest sympathy to all victims and families impacted by these tragedies,” Warner Bros. said adding, "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 bipartisan legislation to address this epidemic."
In 2012, Warner Bros. donated $1 million-plus to the charities supporting victims of the Aurora shooting.
Cinemark, which owns the Century Aurora Theater where the mass shooting occurred., reportedly has no plans to show "Joker."
Still, the movie has raised concerns. Earlier this week the military newspaper "Stars and Stripes" reported that military commanders in Oklahoma were warned of the potential threat of violence at the theatrical release of the upcoming “Joker” movie, though law enforcement officials are not sure which theaters may be affected.
The paper wrote that an Army Criminal Investigation Command memo alerted commanders at Fort Sill, Okla., about an intelligence bulletin that said a Texas law enforcement agency working with the FBI had discovered “disturbing and very specific chatter in the dark web” about the possible targeting of an unknown theater for a mass shooting during the Oct. 4 release.
Sandy Phillips also said she requested a meeting with studio officials -- including Dee Dee Myers, the former press secretary for former President Bill Clinton, but was rebuffed.
Even among the families from Aurora though, there is a divide on the actions by Warner Brothers regarding this film and their concerns. “I know that for Sandy Phillips, the Warner Brothers response wasn’t enough, but for me it was,” Tina Coon whose son survived the Aurora shooting told FOX Business. “I think they offered a really nice statement, so for me, I am satisfied. But I know that the Phillips aren’t.”
The R-rated movie is expected to bring in $80 million at the box office opening weekend and for the families of the Aurora shootings will only heighten their pain. "My son Tanner was inside the theater during the shooting and he has PTSD to this day," said Coon, “It is also important for people to know that some survivors of mass shooting traumas are still suffering, and can be triggered by a movie such as this.”
"The Dark Knight Rises" featured the late Heath Ledger in the role of the Joker for which he won an Oscar. This new film stars Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill comedian and clown in the new movie. His character struggles to fit into society and devolves into a villain through the course of the film.
Regarding the rising controversy around the film, “Joker” director Todd Phillips (no relation to Sandy) has told critics and those concerned via an interview with IGN that people should watch the movie before passing judgment. “The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world.," said Phillips, "I think people can handle that message.”