Relatives of people killed in the 2012 shooting at a theater in Aurora, Colorado, during a Batman movie sent a letter to Warner Bros. expressing unease about “Joker,” an upcoming film that has divided critics with its lurid, violent take on the comic book villain.
“When we learned that Warner Bros. was releasing a movie … that presents the character as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story, it gave us pause,” the five family members say in the letter, according to a copy shared with NBC News on Tuesday by the group Guns Down America.
“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,” they add, quoting a line from “Spider-Man.”
The families ask the AT&T-owned studio to end contributions to political candidates who accept money from the National Rifle Association, to lobby for gun reforms in Congress and to donate to organizations that help survivors of gun violence.
“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,” the letter says.
The letter, addressed to Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff, stops short of calling on Warner Bros. to cancel plans to release “Joker,” which stars Oscar-nominated actor Joaquin Phoenix as a troubled, twisted stand-up comedian who turns to brutal violence in Gotham City, eventually becoming Batman’s arch-nemesis.
The letter was signed by:
- Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose 24-year-old daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was killed in the shooting.
- Theresa Hoover, whose 18-year-old son, Alexander J. Boik, was killed.
- Heather Dearman, whose cousin, Ashley Moser, lost a 6-year-old daughter and unborn child.
- Tina Coon, whose son was a witness to the massacre.
In a statement to NBC News, Warner Bros. said it believed gun violence is a major issue and extended condolences to families touched by tragedy. The company said it had “a long history of donating to victims of violence, including Aurora.”
“At the same time, Warner Bros. believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues,” the studio added. “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.”