Feds warn of threatening social media posts as Joaquin Phoenix’s ‘Joker’ opens in theaters
Writer-director Todd Phillips says it isn’t fair to link his film “Joker” to real-world violence. And star Joaquin Phoenix says he felt uncomfortable while making the movie — and is pleased that audiences have had equally strong reactions. (Sept. 24) AP, AP
Federal authorities are monitoring and warning local law enforcement of a series threatening social media posts linked to the R-rated “Joker,” now in theaters, a law enforcement official said Thursday.
The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said the joint FBI and Department of Homeland Security bulletin was issued out of an abundance of caution, as there is no specific or credible threat against a particular venue.
Amid polarizing reviews for “Joker,” which holds a 69% positive rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, the Todd Phillips-directed drama is stirring passionate debate and real-world concerns over the film’s portrayal of graphic and random violence.
Fears have been heightened because of the infamous, chaos-loving character at the center of the story (played by Joaquin Phoenix) – and the long-held but debunked belief that the gunman who shot 12 moviegoers to death at a 2012 opening-weekend showing of “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, Colorado, was dressed as or inspired by Joker.
Concerns have been raised about the potential for a copycat attack or violence in theaters.
Joaquin Phoenix talks ‘Joker’: ‘It’s shaky ground as an actor’
Phillips has pushed back, pointing out misinformation connecting the Aurora shooter to the Joker character. He says “Joker” is being held to a different standard than other violent Hollywood films that glorify real violence and minimize the consequences.
“The movie still takes place in a fictional world,” he told the Associated Press. “It can have real-world implications, opinions. But it’s a fictional character in a fictional world.”
Warner Bros. re-enforced the sentiment with a statement last week: “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. “
Here’s how concerns have played out across the country:
- An internal Army memo that vaguely warned of a possible mass shooting threat in relation to “Joker” touched off public concern last week, even as Army officials said no credible information has been received. The Sept. 23 memo went public when officers in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, warned service members to be “cautious” and “increase situational awareness” if attending the film. Christopher Grey, chief of public affairs for the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, said officials are “not aware of any information indicating a specific, credible threat to a particular location or venue.”
- Police departments are beefing up visible patrols. NYPD’s Chief of Patrol Rodney Harrison told Deadline the department plans to place officers at theaters, while a significant undercover detachment will also be deployed to make sure nothing untoward occurs inside cinemas throughout the city. The Los Angeles Police Department “will maintain high visibility around theaters when it opens.” according to a police statement to the Los Angeles Times.
- Landmark Theatres decreed in a statement last week that “no masks, painted faces or costumes will be permitted in our theaters.” AMC Theaters will continue banning masks, reminding costumers of the theater chain’s existing policy, “Guests are welcome to come dressed in costume, but we do not permit masks, face paint, or any object that conceals the face.”
- The theater where the Aurora shooting occurred – previously the Century 16, renamed the Century Aurora – won’t show “Joker.” Crystal McCoy, public information officer for the Aurora Police Department, told USA TODAY the theater manager confirmed the film would not be shown at the location.
- Family members of Aurora shooting victims expressed their concerns in an open letter sent Sept. 24 to Warner Bros., writing that they were given pause “when we learned that Warner Bros. was releasing a movie called Joker that presents the character as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story.” The letter didn’t demand that the studio pull “Joker” from theaters, but asked that it stop political contributions to candidates “who take money from the NRA and vote against gun reform.”
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