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Families of Aurora Shooting Victims Express Concerns About ‘Joker’

Variety logo Variety 9/24/2019 Brent Lang
a person wearing a costume © Niko Tavernise/Warner Bros.

Family members and friends of the victims of a 2012 mass shooting at a screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colo., are expressing concerns about the upcoming release of “Joker,” a comic book adaptation that’s provoked controversy for its violent subject matter.

In a letter to Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff, the families and friends urge the company to join the likes of Walmart and CVS in advocating for gun safety.

“We’re calling on you to use your massive platform and influence to join us in our fight to build safer communities with fewer guns,” reads the letter, which was obtained by Variety.

“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,” it continues.

The letter was signed by Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, a couple whose 24-year-old daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was murdered; Theresa Hoover, the mother of 18-year-old Alexander J. Boik, who was shot and killed; Heather Dearman, whose cousin Ashley Moser, lost an unborn child and a 6-year-old daughter in the attack; and Tiina Coon, whose son was a witness to the shootings. They aren’t asking Warner Bros. to pull “Joker” from release, saying they support free speech, but say its “sympathetic origin story… gave us pause.”

Instead of calling for a boycott or ban, the families and friends of victims are asking Warner Bros. to end political contributions to candidates who take money from the NRA and vote against gun reform; use its political clout to lobby congressional leaders for gun reform; and fund survivor funds and gun violence intervention programs.

“Since the federal government has failed to pass reforms that raise the standard for gun ownership in America, large companies like Warner Brothers have a responsibility to act,” the letter reads. “We certainly hope that you do.”

The shooting spree at an Aurora theater killed 12 people and took place during a midnight showing of the Warner Bros. release “The Dark Knight Rises.” Spokespeople for Warner Bros. did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The letter comes after shootings in communities such as El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, have strengthened calls for gun reform. So far, that advocacy has yet to produce any meaningful legislation. President Donald Trump, after initially signaling he would support tougher background checks and other firearms restrictions, now appears to be moving away from backing any new laws. However, the rising call for action has inspired responses from some corporations. Walmart pledged to scale back on sales of guns and ammunition, CVS and Walgreens are preventing customers from carrying firearms into their stores, and nearly 150 heads of companies such as Uber, Twitter, and Airbnb sent a letter to the Senate demanding action on gun violence.

“Joker” centers on a mentally disturbed man (Joaquin Phoenix) whose aspirations to become a standup comic are derailed, making him lose touch with reality and sending him into a bloody tailspin that provokes copycat crimes and anarchic violence. Phoenix’s performance has been highly praised and the film won a top prize at this year’s Venice Film Festival.

Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America, an advocacy organization that helped craft the letter, said that the writers were not claiming that Hollywood movies inspire violence, as some claim.

“I generally follow the science on this stuff and the science has repeatedly found no link between violent movies and real world violent crime,” he said. “That’s the reality of the situation. The real issue isn’t violence in what Hollywood makes. It’s that it’s incredibly easy to obtain firearms in America.”

Rather, Volsky said that his group and organizations want companies like Warner Bros. to help pressure lawmakers to endorse tighter gun control laws.

“It is really an effort to identify powerful actors and powerful voices and urge them to be part of this movement,” he said.

Here’s the full text of the letter to Warner Bros.:

Dear Ann Sarnoff,

We are the family members and friends of the 12 people killed at the Century 16 movie theater in Aurora, Colorado at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises on July 20, 2012. This tragic event, perpetrated by a socially isolated individual who felt “wronged” by society has changed the course of our lives.

As a result, we have committed ourselves to ensuring that no other family ever has to go through the absolute hell we have experienced and the pain we continue to live with. Trust us, it does not go away.

When we learned that Warner Bros. was releasing a movie called “Joker” that presents the character as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story, it gave us pause.

We want to be clear that we support your right to free speech and free expression. But as anyone who has ever seen a comic book movie can tell you: with great power comes great responsibility. That’s why we’re calling on you to use your massive platform and influence to join us in our fight to build safer communities with fewer guns.

Over the last several weeks, large American employers from Walmart to CVS have announced that they are going to lean into gun safety. 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.

Specifically, we’re asking you to do the following:

● End political contributions to candidates who take money from the NRA and vote against gun

reform. These lawmakers are literally putting your customers and employees in danger.

● 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.

● Help fund survivor funds and gun violence intervention programs to help survivors of gun violence

and to reduce every-day gun violence in the communities you serve.

Since the federal government has failed to pass reforms that raise the standard for gun ownership in America, large companies like Warner Brothers have a responsibility to act. We certainly hope that you do.

Sincerely,

Sandy Phillips

Lonnie Phillips

Tiina Coon

Theresa Hoover

Heather Dearman

Related video: ‘Joker’: Todd Phillips Talks Convincing Joaquin Phoenix to Get On Board (Provided by The Hollywood Reporter):

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