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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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Florida Cracks Down on “Vaccine Tourism”

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  • Florida is now requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19. 
  • The state has been hit with “vaccine tourism” as many people, predominantly wealthy individuals, fly to the state from other parts of the U.S. and abroad just to get the shot. 
  • So far, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses administered in Florida went to out-of-staters, though it is unclear if all those people were tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents.

Florida Requires Proof of Residency

Florida is cracking down on “vaccine tourism” and requiring that people show proof of either full-time or part-time residency in the state in order to get a COVID-19 shot.

Previously the state was allowing anyone 65 and older, including non-residents, to get the vaccine. This resulted in people flying to the Sunshine State from across the U.S. and abroad just for the purpose of receiving it. 

According to state data, nearly 41,000 of the 1.3 million doses Florida has administered have gone to out-of-staters. It is unclear if all these out-of-staters are tourists or if this figure includes some part-time residents. 

Now, people must show a form of identification like a driver’s license or mortgage payment to receive it. Exceptions will be made for healthcare workers. 

Vaccine Supply Continues to Be Limited

Wealthy people in particular were quick to schedule travel plans to Florida for this reason. According to the Wall Street Journal, there was an influx of Canadians booking private jets to Florida. Some were looking to book flights there and back on the same day, leaving just enough time for them to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

Meanwhile, people in Florida and across the country are waiting in long lines and struggling to book appointments on glitching websites to get their shots. Vaccine supply continues to be incredibly limited and not everyone in high-risk groups have received them.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said this rule is not made to impact snowbirds, people who live in Florida during the winter to escape cold weather up north. 

“They go to doctors here or whatever, that’s fine, DeSantis said, according to CNN. “What we don’t want is tourists, foreigners. We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (CNN) (Travel + Leisure)

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Amanda Gorman Wows the Nation With “The Hill We Climb”

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  • Amanda Gorman, a 22-year-old poet, impressed the nation when she read “The Hill We Climb” at President Biden’s inauguration, making her the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history.
  • Gorman’s said the Jan. 6 attack on the nation’s Capitol inspired her to focus on a message of hope, community, and healing in her poem.
  • Big names like Oprah Winfrey, Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and Lin-Manuel Miranda have all praised her work.

Amanda Gorman Becomes Youngest Inaugural Poet

Inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wowed the nation on Wednesday as she spoke of healing, unity, hope, and what it means to be American while reading her poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

At 22-years-old Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in the nation’s history. Born and raised in Los Angeles, she was the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 at the age of 16. She then became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017. 

Now, her books are topping Amazon’s Best Sellers list and they are not even scheduled to be released until the fall.

First Lady Dr. Jill Biden became a fan of Gorman after watching her give a reading at the Library of Congress. She then suggested that Gorman be a part of the ceremony. 

“Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew. That even as we hurt, we hoped That even as we tired, we tried,” Gorman recited during inauguration. “That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious. Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.”

Like President Biden, Gorman has struggled with a speech impediment and has been open about her experience overcoming it. She actually used poetry as a tool to correct it. First, she used it as a way of expressing herself without having to speak. Then she used it to bring her poems to life.

“Once I arrived at the point in my life in high school, where I said, ‘you know what? Writing my poems on the page isn’t enough for me,” she told CBS News. “I have to give them breath, and life, I have to perform them as I am.’ That was the moment that I was able to grow past my speech impediment.”

What Inspired “The Hill We Climb”

Gorman said the inaugural committee gave her freedom and flexibility when it came to choosing what to write about. She was well on her way before the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Those events then influenced her writing. 

“It energized me even more to believe that much more firmly in a message of hope, community and healing. I felt like that was the type of poem that I needed to write and it was the type of poem that the country and the world needed to hear,” she told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  

That message came across clearly and the insurrection was depicted in part of “The Hill We Climb.”

“It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit. It’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it, would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy and this effort very nearly succeeded,” she said. “But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated. In this truth, in this faith we trust. For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.”

Nation Impressed by Gorman

“Wow…Wow, I just, wow you’re awesome,” Cooper said when closing his interview with her. “I am so transfixed.” 

Lin-Manuel Miranda also cheered Gorman on. “The Hill We Climb” notably references a line of scripture that appears in a “Hamilton” song. Gorman also said she used to sing the song “Aaron Burr, Sir” to help her say her R sounds and correct her speech impediment. 

“I have never been prouder to see another young woman rise!” Oprah Winfrey wrote. “Brava Brava Amanda Gorman! Maya Angelou is cheering—and so am I.”

Winfrey also gave Gorman a ring with a caged bird on it—a reference to the famous Angelou poem— which Gorman wore during the inauguration. 

Actor Mark Ruffalo joined the onslaught of praise, saying that her words will lead the nation. 

Former President Barack Obama echoed that idea as well, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Gorman promised to run for president one day. 

See what others are saying: (CBS News) (New York Times) (Los Angeles Times)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

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

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