Warner Bros. on Tuesday released a statement on its upcoming movie , after families of victims killed in a 2012 theater shooting expressed concern regarding the content of the film, urging the company to fight gun violence. Twelve people were killed and 70 injured after Jake Holmes opened fire during a screening of another Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012. Holmes was initially reported to have called himself "The Joker," the main villain in that Batman film.
Friends and family of the victims wrote a letter to Warner Bros. CEO Ann Sarnoff, calling on the company to lobby for gun reform and "end political contributions to candidates who take money from the NRA and vote against gun reform," Variety reported. They also asked the company to give money to survivor funds and gun violence intervention programs. Warner Bros. confirmed it received the letter.
In its statement, Warner Bros. said it extends its sympathy to all victims and families impacted by gun violence, and that it has a "long history of donating to victims of violence, including Aurora." The company said it joined other business leaders in recent weeks in asking policymakers to roll out bipartisan legislation tackling the issue.
"At the same time, Warner Bros. believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues," the company 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."
Joker won't play at the Aurora theater where the shooting took place, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Cinemark, which owns the theater, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
In an interview with Associated Press published Tuesday, director Todd Phillips responded to the concerns about his movie and real-world violence.
"I mean, I think that Aurora is obviously a horrible, horrible situation but even that is not something you blame on the movie," Phillips said in response to a question about whether he understood why people might be scared going into it.
"Quite frankly, if you do your own research about Aurora that gentleman wasn't even going in as Joker. That was misreported, his hair was dyed red. He was having, obviously, a mental breakdown and there's something horrifying about that but it wasn't related to it outside of the fact that it happened at a movie theater.
"This is not the thing that the movie is trying to represent. The movie still takes place in a fictional world. It can have real-world implications, options, but it's a fictional character in a fictional world that's been around for 80 years."
Phillips went on to compare Joker to John Wick 3, an action-thriller starring Keanu Reeves, which has been described as a "gratuitously-violent action movie." It features multiple fight scenes, including a final shootout between Wick and two busloads of enforcers.
"The one that bugs me more is the toxic white male thing when you go, oh I just saw John Wick 3. He's a white male who kills 300 people and everybody's laughing and hooting and hollering. Why does this movie get held to different standards? It honestly doesn't make sense to me."
Joker will be out in Australia Oct. 3, and worldwide Oct. 4., with some speculating Joaquin Phoenix could win an Academy Award for his role as the Clown Prince of Crime.
Originally published Sept. 24, 4:08 p.m. PT.
Update, 4:24 p.m.PT: Adds confirmation from Warner Bros. that it received the letter.
Update, 10:20 p.m. PT: Adds Todd Phillips' response.