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Aurora Shooting Victims Raise Concerns About “Joker” in Letter to Warner Brothers

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  • Families of the victims of the 2012 shooting at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, CO wrote a letter to Warner Brothers raising concerns about their new film Joker
  • They said the film depicts violence in a manner that gives them “pause” and encouraged the studio to advocate for gun reform through political support and donations.
  • Critics of Joker believe the film depicts the story of a societal outcast who turns to violence in a dangerous way, which could empower similar behavior in the era of mass shootings. 
  • Writer/Director Todd Phillips and the film’s star Joaquin Phoenix, however, think there is a different lesson to be learned from the film and argue that someone seeking to be inspired by violence could find it anywhere, not just in their movie.

Families Write Letter

Families of the victims of the 2012 Aurora theater shooting penned a letter to Warner Brothers with concerns over its new film Joker, asking the company to join a wave of businesses fighting for gun reform. 

On July 20, 2012, a gunman killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. While Joker will not be shown at the remodeled version of that theater, many in the community still have concerns about the movie. Warner Brothers’ latest Batman-related project depicts the famous villain as a failed comic who spirals into violent spells after feeling like a societal outcast.

Five family members of shooting victims and witnesses explained how this tragedy impacted their lives and why this new movie concerns them in their letter, which was addressed to Warner Brothers’ CEO Ann Sarnoff.

“This tragic event, perpetrated by a socially isolated individual who felt “wronged” by society has changed the course of our lives,” they wrote in the letter, which was obtained and published by Variety. “As a result, we have committed ourselves to ensuring that no other family ever has to go through the absolute hell we have experienced and the pain we continue to live with. Trust us, it does not go away.”

“When we learned that Warner Bros. was releasing a movie called “Joker” that presents the character as a protagonist with a sympathetic origin story, it gave us pause,” they added. “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. That’s why we’re calling on you to use your massive platform and influence to join us in our fight to build safer communities with fewer guns.”

The letter cites Walmart and CVS as corporations who have recently taken their own steps to support gun safety. Rather than calling for a boycott of the film, or asking the company to drop the project, the families are asking Warner Brothers to stop contributing to candidates who take money from the NRA and vote against gun reform.

They are also calling on Warner Brothers to use their own political clout in Congress to lobby for gun reform and are asking them to donate to survivor funds and gun violence intervention programs.

Reports say that a copy of the letter has not made its way to Warner Brothers Studios yet, and they have not commented on the matter. 

The Hollywood Reporter spoke to some of the people who signed the letter, including Sandy Phillips, who lost her daughter in the shooting.

“I don’t need to see a picture of [the perpetrator]; I just need to see a Joker promo and I see a picture of the killer,” she said. 

“My worry is that one person who may be out there — and who knows if it is just one — who is on the edge, who is wanting to be a mass shooter, may be encouraged by this movie. And that terrifies me,” she later added.

However, not everyone behind the letter is worried about fictional displays of violence influencing the real world. Igor Volsky, executive director of Guns Down America, who advised the family members on this letter, told Variety that he does not believe there is a correlation between the two.

“I generally follow the science on this stuff and the science has repeatedly found no link between violent movies and real world violent crime,” he said. “That’s the reality of the situation. The real issue isn’t violence in what Hollywood makes. It’s that it’s incredibly easy to obtain firearms in America.”

Criticism of ‘Joker’

Joker is expected to open to an impressive box office haul and is even looked at as an Oscar contender come awards season. The violence depicted in it, however, has dominated critical conversations since the film debuted at the Venice Film Festival in August, winning the event’s top prize. The film’s acclaim has been met by equal concerns about letting audiences sympathize with a character committing heinous acts in the name of being a lonely defeatist. Some critics find this image to be too disturbingly familiar in a world where mass killings occur on a regular basis.

Chief Critic at Vanity Fair, Richard Lawson said the movie, “may be irresponsible propaganda for the very men it pathologizes.”

David Ehrlich, the Senior Critic at IndieWire called it “a toxic rallying cry for self-pitying incels.”

Joaquin Phoenix and Todd Phillips Respond to Criticism

This angle inevitably became a talking point in interviews with the cast and crew. In an article published by Telegraph on Friday, Joaquin Phoenix, who plays the title role, walked out when an interviewer brought up the subject.

Critic and writer Robbie Collin said he asked Phoenix if he was “worried that this film might perversely end up inspiring exactly the kind of people it’s about, with potentially tragic results?”

“Why?…Why would you…? No… no,” Phoenix responded. Collin wrote that the actor then clasped his hands between his and walked out the door. 

Bursts like this are not outside the realm of normal for Phoenix. He eventually returned to the interview after Collin negotiated with Warner Brothers’ PR team for an hour. Collin wrote that the idea of this character’s violence potentially being contagious had not yet crossed Phoenix’s mind. 

Since that interview, the question has continued to come up. Joker’s writer and director Todd Phillips defended the film’s thesis in a Monday interview with IGN. 

“The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world,” he said. “I think people can handle that message.”

In that same interview, Phoenix also backed the message up.

“Well, I think that, for most of us, you’re able to tell the difference between right and wrong,” he said to IGN. “And those that aren’t are capable of interpreting anything in the way that they may want to. People misinterpret lyrics from songs. They misinterpret passages from books. So I don’t think it’s the responsibility of a filmmaker to teach the audience morality or the difference between right or wrong. I mean, to me, I think that that’s obvious.”

“I think if you have somebody that has that level of emotional disturbance, they can find fuel anywhere,” Phoenix added in regards to the film’s potential inspiration to incite violence. “I just don’t think that you can function that way.”

Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murderers or suspected mass murderers who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.

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AMC Will Set Movie Ticket Prices Based on Seat Locations

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The decision has faced backlash, but AMC executives claim it will ensure that “guests have more control over their experience.”


Sightline by AMC

AMC, the largest movie theater chain in the U.S., is changing its price metric by charging more at admission for preferred seats and offering value seats at a lower cost. 

The new pricing experiment is called Sightline by AMC, and it offers three different tiers. Value Sightline includes the seats right next to the screen, while Preferred Sightline includes seats that are centered and in the middle of the theater. The average seats, or Standard Sightline, will remain at the normal price of admission. 

“While every seat at AMC delivers an amazing moviegoing experience, we know there are some moviegoers who prioritize their specific seat and others who prioritize value moviegoing,” AMC’s executive vice president and CMO Eliot Hamlisch said to Variety. “Sightline at AMC accommodates both sentiments to help ensure that our guests have more control over their experience, so that every trip to an AMC is a great one.”

However, Sightline will not apply to AMC’s Discount Tuesday deal — every ticket will still be offered at $5 regardless of seat location. Sightline will also only apply to evening shows after 4:00 p.m.

The Reception

The movie theater giant has faced backlash for this new price structure, including from people in the entertainment industry.

“This is absurdly stupid & only creates unnecessary classism,” actor and director Seth Green wrote on Twitter. “AMCTheatres clearly focused on squeezing new profits anywhere possible. Trying to get people back into theaters? Don’t penalize folks with less to spend.” 

Actor Elijah Wood also condemned the change for disproportionately impacting lower-income families.

“The movie theater is and always has been a sacred democratic space for all and this new initiative by AMCTheatres would essentially penalize people for lower income and reward for higher income,” Wood wrote. 

This is not the first time AMC has experimented with its pricing. During the opening weekend of “The Batman” last year, AMC announced it would be charging $1 to $2 more for it compared to other movies playing at the same time. Back in 2019, the chain tested a different pricing initiative, charging more for movies “of the highest appeal” and making less in-demand movies cheaper. 

See what others are saying: (Variety) (Complex) (NowThis

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Neo-Nazi Leader Charged in Plot to “Destroy Baltimore” By Attacking Substations — a Growing Trend

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Experts say that far-right extremist attacks on energy infrastructure have grown significantly in the last few years.


Conspiracy to Attack Maryland Energy Systems

A neo-Nazi leader who was recently released from prison and a woman he met while incarcerated were arrested on Monday for plotting to “completely destroy” the power grid in Baltimore, Maryland.

Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the FBI field office in Baltimore said in a press conference that the two had “conspired to inflict maximum harm on the power grid,” by targeting five electrical substations that serve 1.2 million people in central Maryland.

He noted that the pair ”were not just talking, but taking steps to fulfill their threats and further their extremist goals.”

Their plot, however, was foiled by law enforcement before they could put it into action, in large part because both extensively detailed their plans to an FBI informant on encrypted messaging apps.

Sobocinski described their extremist views as “racially or ethnically motivated.”

The neo-Nazi leader is the founder of a small but dangerous group called the Atomwaffen Division, which uses civil disorder and violence because they believe it will help spark a race war in the U.S. — a white supremacist theory known as “accelerationism.”

Authorities say that he previously plotted with his roommates — also members of the group — to attack energy facilities in Florida. Before he could, he was arrested and put in federal prison for possessing bomb-making materials.

During that time, he began to communicate with the woman, who was serving time in a separate facility in Maryland after being charged with robbing multiple convenience stores with a machete.

Authorities point to several pieces of evidence that indicate she too had been radicalized, including a statement she wrote that prosecutors say resembles a manifesto, in which she references Hitler, the Unabomber, and a far-right Norwegian terrorist and stated: “I would sacrifice **everything** for my people.”

The woman’s mother also told The Washington Post that she had become involved with neo-Nazi beliefs in prison, which she has been in and out of since 2006.

A Growing Trend

Federal law enforcement officials have said there is “no indication” the planned attack in Baltimore was connected to other attacks. The plot, however, comes on the heels of similar events.

In early December, there were a series of attacks on substations in North Carolina that were very reminiscent of what the pair in Maryland were plotting. In fact, prosecutors even said the neo-Nazi leader sent the FBI informant a video about that attack. 

While authorities have provided little information on a suspect or motive in North Carolina, it has been reported that they have zeroed in on two possibilities that both center around far-right extremism. 

Around the same time in December, there were also a series of attacks on the grid in the Pacific Northwest.

Researchers and homeland security officials have said that far-right extremists have been increasingly targeting energy infrastructure while operating under the neo-Nazi theory of accelerationism.

According to a study by the program on extremism at George Washington University released in September, white supremacist attempts to target energy systems “dramatically increased in frequency” from 2016 to 2022.

“Since 2019, white supremacist attacks plots against critical infrastructure systems have distinctly increased,” the study found.

Brian Harrell, a former Homeland Security official who oversaw infrastructure protection at the department, told The Post that he saw a noticeable surge in violent extremists talking about carrying out these attacks online.

“When digging into the ‘dark web,’ social media portals and chat rooms, we quickly see that targeting and destroying energy infrastructure is a tactic many extremist groups fantasize about,” he said.

Editor’s Note: At Rogue Rocket, we make it a point to not include the names and pictures of mass murders, suspected mass murderers, or those accused of committing violent crimes who may have been seeking attention or infamy. Therefore, we will not be linking to other sources, as they may contain these details.

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College Board Changes AP African American Studies After Backlash From DeSantis Amid Education Culture War

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As requested by DeSantis, the College Board removed lessons on contemporary topics including Black Lives Matter, queer studies, and reparations.


College Board Rolls Out Curriculum

The College Board, which oversees Advanced Placement high school courses, announced an official curriculum framework for its new, landmark Advanced Placement African American studies on Wednesday.

The announcement, made on the first day of Black History Month, has faced scrutiny for seeming to scale back a number of relevant subjects that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and other state education officials had criticized.

In January, DeSantis said that the new course would be banned in Florida unless changes were made, arguing that a draft version of the course was “woke.” 

Education officials claimed that the class, which had been in the making for nearly a decade, violated a recent state law dubbed the Stop WOKE Act. The legislation regulates public school instruction on race by banning critical race theory and any education that describes some groups as oppressed and others as privileged based on race or sex.

Democrats denounced DeSantis’ action as a political stunt and urged the College Board to maintain its principles.

According to reports, many historical topics like slavery largely remain intact from the previous draft. However, important contemporary issues like Black Lives Matter, affirmative action, queer studies, reparations, and intersectionality — all of which Florida leaders objected to — were removed from curriculum requirements and are no longer part of the AP exam.

Instead, those areas of study have been downgraded to be part of a list of options students can pursue for a mandatory research project. The College Board also added a new research project idea to that list that will certainly please the right: “Black conservatism.”

It has additionally been reported that the organization pulled names of multiple Black authors the state education officials had flagged as problematic, including many famous and pioneering Black scholars who wrote about critical race theory, the queer experience, and Black feminism. 

The College Board defended itself against criticism in a press release announcing the changes, claiming that the process of developing the framework “has operated independently from political pressure.”

DeSantis’ Ongoing Culture War

DeSantis’ attempts to influence the national curriculum of an AP course are just his latest in a much broader effort to control what is and is not taught in public schools.

Just one day before the College Board announced the revised course, the governor outlined what The New York Times described as “his most aggressive swing yet at the education establishment.”

Specifically, he proposed a massive overhaul to higher education in the state that would defund and eliminate diversity and equity programs, mandate courses on Western civilization, and reduce tenure protections that are essential to ensure professors have freedom of expression.

Furthermore, the effects of another law DeSantis signed last year are now just beginning to materialize. The policy, which went into effect this July, requires every school book to be age-appropriate, “free of pornography,” and “suited to student needs.” 

To follow those guidelines, school books have to be approved by a certified media specialist who has undergone specific training.

Notably, the law also states that teachers can be charged with third-degree felonies if they “knowingly or unknowingly” give students access to a book that the specialists say is harmful — meaning that they could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Last month, the state education department clarified that the rule does not just apply to school libraries, but also to any books a teacher keeps in their classroom too. 

Multiple outlets reported this week that records they obtained show at least two school districts have now directed teachers to either remove their books or hide them until review to avoid the possibility of going to jail.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (The Associated Press)

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