Prior to Joker‘s release, after it had turned heads by picking up the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, there was a panic that it was somehow dangerous. Opinion columnists weighed in, arguing that it was irresponsible to release it as it may inspire violence, it was some kind of incel fantasy, and/or that it was insensitive when taking into account the 2012 Dark Knight Rises shooting in Aurora.
People who hadn’t seen the movie had pretty strong opinions about it and they were all left looking a bit silly when the film turned out to be a progressive critique of austerity and the importance of funding of mental health care. Still, I guess there were column inches to fill, so who can blame them?
Now, Warner Bros. Chairman Toby Emmerich has been quizzed about whether the studio had any second thoughts about releasing it. The Hollywood Reporter spoke to him as part of a series of interviews with top movie executives on the state of the business, with Emmerich saying the following:
“There were a lot of misunderstandings around the history of the tragic shooting in Aurora, [Colorado, in 2012,] which happened at a Batman film. And we were certainly supersensitive to it [and the tragedy for the victims and their loved ones]. But that film and that shooting had no connection in any way to the Joker character.
So we had to judge our film on its own merits. A lot of the social media comments around the film were by people who hadn’t seen the film and didn’t know what it was. We looked at the film really closely and did feel that it was a great film. That it was a piece of art. And we didn’t think it would inspire violence. We took it to Venice, where it won the Golden Lion. And we felt comfortable releasing the film.”
Lord knows I don’t have a great deal of time for the pronouncements of Warner Bros. executives, but Emmerich is speaking a lot of sense here. Despite the tabloid insistence that the Aurora shooter was inspired by Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight, it’s simply not true. He’s also absolutely right that many people were quick to pre-judge the film based on what they assumed it’d be, which created a kind of self-reinforcing feedback loop that persisted until the day of release.
But I’m betting that Warner Bros. weren’t exactly dismayed that their movie was a big news story and everyone had an opinion of it. You can’t buy marketing penetration like that and being ‘the film that everyone’s talking about’ went a long way towards Joker‘s record-breaking box office numbers. Also, the fact that there wasn’t a major clown-related crimewave somewhat speaks for itself.