Concerns about real-life violence occurring during screenings of the movie Joker is prompting theaters to adopt additional safety measures, with at least one national chain saying they are adding security personnel.
According to a statement by the Texas-based Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, which operates 40 locations, the company is adding security in theaters specifically for the Warner Bros. film during opening weekend.
“There have been some guest inquiries surrounding next week’s Joker screenings, and what we’re doing as a company to ensure staff and guest safety, which is at all times our primary concern,” said an Alamo spokesperson in a statement obtained by EW. “We engage with local law enforcement on an ongoing basis about security at our theaters, and while we’re unaware of any specific threat or concern, we will have additional security personnel present at each location for opening weekend for the comfort of our staff and guests. Additionally, cosplaying will be allowed, however, guests in costume are always subject to search at the discretion of theater staff at any time, and may be asked to leave for any reason.”
Alamo’s playful brand has always encouraged moviegoers to come in cosplay, but another theater chain is banning costumes outright for Joker.
“We don’t comment on anything to do with operating procedures, but we are not allowing costumes, face painting or masks by either our employees or guests,” Landmark Theaters, which operates 56 theaters, said in a statement when asked about the film.
The mega Regal Cinemas chain, which operates more than 500 theaters, also responded to an inquiry about security measures with a vague statement. “At Regal, we do not believe the content or the existence of any movie is a cause or a signal for violence,” the company said. “Nevertheless, although we do not comment on security protocols implemented by our theatres at any time, patron and employee safety is our foremost concern. In collaboration with [the National Association of Theatre Owners], we are in regular contact year-round with law enforcement so we have information to help make whatever security assessments they deem appropriate at all times.”
The National Association of Theatre Owners have not given an on-record statement about the Joker worries but are aware of the concerns.
Joker, opening Friday, is arguably the most controversial film of the year even though moviegoers haven’t seen it yet. The film garnered raves when it premiered at the Venice Film Festival and won the event’s top prize. Critic reviews were largely positive (the title stands at 75 percent “fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes), though many expressed concerns about the film’s content. The film offers a grounded portrayal of the titular Joker (Joaquin Phoenix) as a loner who feels mistreated by society and escalates to acts of violence against the wealthy and becomes a hero of sorts to the working class.
Phoenix reportedly walked out of an interview earlier this month when asked about the controversy, but then later defended the film. “Well, I think that, for most of us, you’re able to tell the difference between right and wrong,” Phoenix has said. “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.”
Earlier this week, the families of victims of 2012 mass shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, penned a letter to Warner Bros. expressing their concerns about the film, and urged the studio to use its influence to help make society safer. “[The Aurora shooting], perpetrated by a socially isolated individual who felt ‘wronged’ by society, has changed the course of our lives,” reads the letter. “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.”
In addition, a U.S. Army base recently warned service members of dark web chatter making a threat against an unspecified movie theater.
Warner Bros. replied in a statement that “our company has a long history of donating to victims of violence, including Aurora, and in recent weeks, our parent company joined other business leaders to call on policymakers to enact bi-partisan legislation to address this epidemic. At the same time, Warner Bros. believes that one of the functions of storytelling is to provoke difficult conversations around complex issues. 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.”