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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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CNN’s Chris Cuomo Apologizes for Gender Pronoun Joke at Equality Town Hall

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  • When Sen. Kamala Harris stated that her pronouns were “she, her, and hers” at the start of CNN’s Equality Town Hall, host Chris Cuomo replied, “me too.” 
  • The comment was met with a ton of backlash online from LGBTQ rights groups and community members who said it showed he did not understand the community’s issues.
  • Cuomo apologized on Twitter after the event and said he was an ally of the community. 

Pronoun Comment 

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo apologized Thursday night for a joke he made about his pronouns when introducing 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris during the network’s LGBTQ focused Equality Town Hall. 

The California senator walked onto the stage to greet Cuomo. “Thank you, guys,” she said to the cheering crowd composed of several LGBTQ members and allies. “And my pronouns are she, her, and hers,” she added.

Her words elicited more cheers from the audience, however, Cuomo’s response was met with harsher criticism online. “She, her, and hers?” he asked before jokingly adding, “Mine too.”

Harris simply replied with “All right.”

Social Media Response 

Although the senator’s line drew mostly praise, she was also hit with accusations of pandering as she does not typically mention her pronouns at public events. But most of the criticism online honed in on Cuomo. 

Within progressive spaces and the LGBTQ community, pronoun introductions are widely viewed as a step towards inclusion and a more nuanced understanding of gender. As most who are familiar with the popular TV host know, “she, her, and hers” are not, in fact, Cuomo’s pronouns. 

The National Center for Lesbian Rights quickly condemned Cuomo’s comment online, saying “people’s pronouns are not a punchline.”  

GLAAD called the moment “disappointing,” while others found it even more inappropriate considering the event, which was organized by CNN and the Human Rights Campaign.

Charlotte Clymer, a trans woman and the Human Right’s Campaign’s press secretary, said Cuomo’s comment “was really not a great look.”

Cuomo Apologizes

Following the event, Cuomo tweeted out an apology, saying he was “an ally of the LGBT community.” 

Some felt the apology wasn’t enough and noted that this incident showed that Cuomo did not understand LGBTQ issues and probably shouldn’t have been a moderator for this event. 

Equality Town Hall

Aside from Harris, eight other Democratic 2020 contenders participated in the event. Many released details about their agendas on LGBTQ issues. All nine promised to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. They also said they would work to reverse the Trump administration’s ban on transgender people openly serving in the military. 

A number of transgender activists also used the night as an opportunity to address violence against black trans women. Many interrupted candidates at several points to call out of lack of representation for their perspectives during the event.

When the mother of a trans son asked former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke a question, Blossom C. Brown, an actress and producer, walked up to grab the microphone from her.

“CNN, you have erased black trans women for the last time. Black trans women are dying. Our lives matter,” Brown said. “Not one black trans woman has taken the mic tonight, not one black trans man has taken the mic tonight.”

See what others are saying:(Fox News)  (The Guardian) (The Washington Post)

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PG&E Power Outages Affect Millions in Northern California

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  • Pacific Gas & Electric is cutting power to 750,000 customers in Northern California, impacting close to 2.5 million people. 
  • Current severe dry winds have increased the chances of wildfires, so PG&E is turning off power to lessen their risk of contributing to one.
  • Californians are already upset with the company, which was found responsible for the 2018 Camp Fire that killed 85 people.
  • But frustrations are now even higher as the outages have already caused car accidents, closed businesses, and could potentially cost the state billions in lost revenue.

PG&E Starts Outages

Millions in Northern California are being impacted by widespread planned power outages which have triggered gas shortages, car accidents, and long-term economic consequences.

Pacific Gas and Electric anticipates that close to 750,000 customers will be impacted by the outages, which started on Wednesday morning. A total of 2.5 million people in the states are expected to feel its effects. 

PG&E is executing these “Public Safety Power Shutoffs” to prevent wildfires in the area. Severe hot, dry winds are currently making their way through Northern California, increasing the chances of a fire. PG&E was found responsible for 2018’s Camp Fire which killed 85 people. Anticipating this, the company filed for bankruptcy in January, predicting facing $30 billion in damages from both the Camp Fire, as well as other fires in 2017.

The outages could last for several days, with the mayor of San Jose warning it could last a week. People in areas affected by the shutoffs are already waiting in long lines at the grocery store and gas stations, and even seeing some stations run out of fuel. Several schools and businesses have closed as a result of the outages as well, leaving people without work. 

Several car crashes related to the outages have also been reported. Traffic lights are not working, making major intersections more vulnerable to accidents. The city of Santa Rosa said that multiple collisions have occurred at intersections without power, with at least five resulting in injuries.

Concerned customers were also left in the dark when PG&E’s website crashed on Wednesday. Over 12 hours later, they created an entirely new site just devoted to the shutoffs. 

Economic Impact of Power Outrage

Perhaps the most long-lasting consequence of these outages is the dame done to the economy. According to Michael Wara, the Director of the Stanford Woods Institute, this could cost anywhere between $65 million to $2.5 billion in economic losses.

Other reports indicate that the number could be closer to $1 billion. PG&E also says customers will not be reimbursed for losses during the outages.

Money is also only part of what is at stake for those in Northern California. The area is home to massive hubs of scientific, medical and technological research. 

In an email to the New York Times, one researcher at the University of California, Berkeley said valuable research is at risk. 

“Many friends and colleagues barely have enough emergency power to keep freezers cold and incubators running,” graduate student Julia Torvi wrote.

“These two things hold millions of dollars of research, tens of years of effort, their contents being irreplaceable.”

Frustrations With PG&E

Frustrations with PG&E are high among residents. Several leaders in California have spoken up about the blackout and condemned PG&E for this practice. 

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-11) called it “completely unacceptable.”

Presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) said that PG&E should be “held responsible for the maintenance of their power lines.”

The public outrage extends even further. A PG&E office in Oroville closed after its front door was vandalized. Reports say that it appeared someone had thrown eggs at it sometime late Tuesday or early Wednesday.

A PG&E truck was also struck by a bullet on Tuesday night. The California Highway Patrol is still investigating the incident. A bullet hit the passenger window. The driver was not injured. 

In a statement Wednesday, Sumeet Singh, the Vice President of PG&E’s Wildfire Safety Program released a statement sympathizing with customers.

“We understand that this power shutoff is difficult for our customers and communities. Please check on your neighbors, friends and family and know that we will work safely, and quickly as possible, to restore power across the region,” the statement read. “Our meteorological and operations teams are actively monitoring the weather and this evolving situation, and we are working directly with state and local agencies to help our customers and communities through this event safely.”

Currently, they have been able to restore power back to 50,000 residents. 

See what others are saying: (San Francisco Chronicle) (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times)

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Matt Lauer Accused of Rape in Ronan Farrow’s New Book

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  • Ronan Farrow’s new book, Catch and Kill, includes an interview with Brooke Nevils, who accused Matt Lauer of raping her in 2014 during the Sochi Olympics.
  • Lauer was fired in 2017 over an unspecified sexual misconduct claim, but this is the first time specifics about the alleged assault have been released.
  • NBC News and TODAY Show anchors responded by saying they were appalled by the news. 
  • Meanwhile, Lauer defended himself by saying all of his relations with Nevils were consensual.

Farrow’s Book Reveals Rape Allegation

An NBC colleague accused former TODAY Show anchor Matt Lauer of rape in Ronan Farrow’s upcoming book.

Back in 2017, Lauer was fired from his position for alleged sexual misconduct. No details about the claim were made clear at the time. Farrow’s book, Catch and Kill, will now provide the first detailed explanation of the alleged assault.

Catch and Kill is not out yet, but Variety received an advance copy of it and reported on the account about Lauer. Farrow interviewed the accuser, Brooke Nevils, who says that incident happened while she was working for Meredith Vieira while in Sochi covering the 2014 Olympics. 

Nevils and Vieira were at the hotel bar when they ran into Lauer. Nevils had six shots of vodka before going to Lauer’s room on two separate occasions. The first was to get her press credential that he jokingly took, and the second was because he invited her back. She told Farrow she “had no reason to suspect Lauer would be anything but friendly based on prior experience.”

When she got there, however, he pushed her against the door kissing her, and then pushed her onto the bed. According to Farrow’s book, he flipped her over “asking if she liked anal sex.”

“She said that she declined several times,” the report continues. Nevils “was in the midst of telling him she wasn’t interested again when he ‘just did it.’” 

The report also details the specifics of the incident, which are incredibly disturbing. Nevils recounted the experience as “excruciatingly painful.” She added that at some point, she stopped saying no a wept silently into a pillow. Afterward, Lauer asked her if she liked it and she told him “yes.”

“It was nonconsensual in the sense that I was too drunk to consent,” Nevils told Farrow. “It was nonconsensual in that I said, multiple times, that I didn’t want to have anal sex.”

Farrow goes on to say that the two did have sexual encounters with one another after the fact. Farrow noted that this was a common occurrence he heard from the numerous other women he had interviewed who shared similar stories of assault.

“This is what I blame myself most for,” Nevils said to Farrow. “It was completely transactional. It was not a relationship.”

NBC’s Handling of the Allegation

On top of these allegations against Lauer, Farrow’s book also details the way NBC handled them. Nevils said that after their encounters had ended, she told several people within the company. Nothing ever happened until Farrow’s bombshell report on Harvey Weinstein led to a cultural reckoning in 2017, prompting her colleagues asked her about Lauer. 

Nevils then told Vieira about what happened. Vieira advised her to go to HR with a lawyer, which Nevils did.

Once Lauer was fired, Nevils learned that executives at NBC News were looking to paint the incident as not being criminal or an assault. Learning this made her throw up.

Nevils also said that HR promised she would remain anonymous. Still, many were able to figure out she was the one who filed the complaint as an internal memo contained details specific enough for people to connect the dots. 

Despite the fact that Nevils insisted she did not want money, she went on medical leave in 2018. Farrow says NBC paid her seven figures. 

NBC and TODAY Respond

NBC responded to the news in a statement that aired on the TODAY Show Wednesday morning. 

“Matt Lauer’s conduct was appalling, horrific and reprehensible, as we said at the time,” the statement read. “That’s why he was fired within 24 hours of us first learning of the complaint. Our hearts break again for our colleague.”

TODAY Show anchors and former colleagues of Lauer, Savannah Guthrie and Hoda Kotb, also responded to the news on air. 

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“I feel like we owe it to our viewers to pause for a moment,” Guthrie said after a news package detailing the allegation aired. 

“You know, this is shocking and appalling and I honestly don’t even know what to say about it,” she added. “I want to say that we know it wasn’t easy for our colleague to come forward then, it’s not easy now, and we support her and any women who have come forward with claims.” 

“There are not allegations of an affair. There are allegations of a crime,” Kotb later added. “And I think that’s shocking to all of us here who have sat with Matt for many, many years.” 

Matt Lauer Responds

Lauer also responded to the allegations on Wednesday morning in an open letter. The Hollywood Reporter obtained the letter via a legal representative of Lauer’s and published it in full. 

“Over the past two years people have asked why I have not spoken out to defend myself more vigorously against some of the false and salacious allegations leveled at me,” he said in the letter’s opening. “It is a fair question and the answer is deeply personal.”

“But my silence has been a mistake,” he added.

He then insisted that everything that happened between him and Nevils was fully consensual.

“In a new book, it is alleged that an extramarital, but consensual, sexual encounter I have previously admitted having, was in fact an assault. It is categorically false, ignores the facts, and defies common sense,” Lauer wrote.

He said that “each act was mutual and completely consensual.” He also said that as their encounters continued, at no time “did she express in words or actions any discomfort with being there, or with our affair.”

Catch and Kill comes out on October 15.

See what others are saying: (Variety) (The Hollywood Reporter) (NBC News)

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