Graphic by Annalisa Baranowski
It all started with a Twitter post.
Heather Antos, a comics editor at Valiant & Image, logged onto the site Sept. 5 and wrote, “Why the Joker movie is problematic. Rachel Miller nails it.” The tweet has already been liked 55.1K times and retweeted 16.6K times.
“I don’t want to be shown what a poor, unfortunate underdog this man was who was sadly forced by circumstances and that nasty Batman to take up a life of crime,” an excerpt from the screen shot of Miller’s take on the upcoming Oct. 3 film release of “Joker,” read. “I don’t want to have sympathy for a man best known for his robbery, murder and arguable rape shoved down my throat for two hours. I don’t want this to be sold as a relatable story that can happen to anyone with a bad enough day, and I don’t want to be around any of the lonely white boys who relate to it.”
The tweet went semi-viral, inspiring think pieces from popular websites like Vox, Dailywire and more. Then, this past week, the story underwent a major development, making national news. Seven years removed from the July 20, 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, where James Eagan Holmes tear gassed and shot up a midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises,” killing 12 people and injuring 70, Sandy Phillips, the mother of 24-year-old shooting victim Jessica Ghawi spearheaded the writing of a letter to Warner Bros expressing concern over the release of “Joker.” The debate picked up with questions, such as what is okay to show on the big screen. Is it possible for a movie to be responsible for inspiring a heinous act like a mass shooting? What could be at stake if we limit what is allowed to be shown?
However, as the public awaits the films’ wide release, many questions remain unanswered. For DePaul film teacher Fatou Samba, the issue remains far from black and white.
“I think there are a lot of gray areas here,” Samba said. “I understand one point of view where it is like, you don’t want to entice people that are maybe troubled to do something like this. On the other hand, it can be a slippery slope. I mean, how much do you limit artistic expression to avoid violence in the world? So you can argue, if this movie inspires one person to commit heinous acts should this movie maybe not be made? Then, on the other hand, you can say anything can be triggering, so where do you draw the line? Do you not show rape? Do you not show murder? Do you not show violence? So where do you draw the line on that?”
“I think there are certainly merits to what people are saying,” Samba continued. “I am not a victim of violence, so I can’t really say you’re not entitled to your opinion. I 100 percent understand where they’re coming from, especially now with mass shootings happening what seems like everyday. But I don’t think that necessarily attacking art and movies is where you begin, in my opinion.”
Samba went on stress the importance of intention and nuance in stories like “Joker.” She talked about how films about violent individuals should strive to “provide meaningful commentary on the state of the world and the people in it,” while making sure they’re not glorifying violence and those that perpetuate it.
In discussing the story with students, most understood where Miller and Phillips were coming from, while simultaneously stressing that censoring films like “Joker” is not the answer.
Senior film student Vanessa Arce heard the concerns of those in opposing “Joker,” but did not believe it would be responsible for inspiring any acts of violence. Arce also spoke to the fear that many people are filled with on a daily basis, as mass shootings have become common across the country.
“I understand where people are coming from with this argument,” Arce said. “That is fair because it is true. There are a lot of problems going on, especially with people being bullied and becoming these types of people and causing these mass murders. I mean, it makes sense, [Miller’s] opinion, and the way that they feel is totally fair.
“I just think a lot of people are just scared and that’s their own trauma as well,” Arce continued. “Where they just don’t want that to happen again, which is fair. But, I mean if you’re just pinpointing [“Joker”], there’s a bunch of films that could cause someone to do the same thing. You can’t just point a finger at a certain film. There are other films that could trigger people, too. I don’t think this one film, the ‘Joker’ is going to trigger something. You can’t just pinpoint one. There are violent movies everywhere that are based around murder, rape, everything. So there should be trigger warnings for it, but I don’t think that one film [‘Joker’] will cause any violence.”
Amongst students that the DePaulia spoke to, perhaps none landed as emphatically on the side of anti-censorship as Werner Reineke, a graduate student from Paderborn, Germany majoring in cyber security. Reineke, who listed “The Dark Knight” as one of his favorite movies of all time, empathized with the aforementioned concerns while raising a different idea: that perhaps a movie like “Joker” could inspire people to not pick on or isolate somebody just because they’re different.
“I think censorship is bad,” Reineke said. “There is no way you can say censorship is a good idea. Even if it is something horrible that somebody wrote, you have to read it and you have to understand what the person who made it thought.
“I understand the logic behind it [critiques over ‘The Joker’],” Reineke continued. “It makes sense that showing someone being degraded by being pummeled or some sort of kind of social isolation and destruction, that he can go mad. But still, showing it in an art piece doesn’t mean you are lifting it [lashing back at society] up on a pedestal and saying, ‘O, this is okay.’ I mean, it is a story, maybe it could also open people’s eyes to think, ‘Don’t isolate the kid at the end of the room,’ right? It could be a good thing, too. I don’t see why you should see it as something negative, or not make the movie at all.”
The consensus from those interviewed was that with a problem as serious and nuanced as mass shootings, there are countless things we as a country have to look at before violent movies. Out of all the students that voiced their opinions on the issue either formally or informally, none called for the film to be banned or shelved. While everybody expressed concern over the widespread violence of our time, the shared feeling was that movies were not to blame.
“I think that what needs to be dealt with is white male privilege, white male fragility, toxic masculinity,” Samba said. “I think those are issues that are at the root of these violent and extreme acts and hateful people are going to commit acts like this, with movies or without movies, and so this is a nuanced sort of conversation. You can’t just say limit all violent movies either, but it is definitely a conversation that’s worth having.”