Joaquin Phoenix dramatically portrays Batman nemesis the Joker in a new trailer for the film “Joker.” But it’s release comes amid an uproar over Hollywood’s use of disabilities to define evil characters.
Actress Lupita Nyong’o was accused last week of “stigmatizing” people who suffer from a rare disability, which she studied to mimic as an evil character in her movie “Us.”
“Connecting disabilities to characters who are evil further marginalizes people with disabilities who also have significant abilities and want to contribute to their communities just like anyone else,” said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, president of RespectAbility.
Nyong’o quickly apologized for revealing she copied spasmodic dysphonia, which causes a raspy voice. But it did little to quell the controversy.
“I am greatly concerned that our condition has been demonized. Now in the public eye, we are ‘creepy’ sound like we have ‘swallowed a cheese grater.’ Our voice is that of a monster. I believe this mocks our disability, should be strongly condemned,” Tweeted Margot Durkin, who suffers from the affliction.
Hollywood’s penchant for associating disabilities with evil characters goes far beyond voice inflections.
Characters like Darth Vader in “Star Wars,” The Joker in “The Dark Knight,” Voldemort in the “Harry Potter” movies and, most recently, Dr. Poison in “Wonder Woman” all rely on physical deformities to convey evil.
“One of the toughest parts of having a disability is that people make assumptions based on the way you walk, talk or act, sometimes with little understanding of what is causing it,” the group said in a statement.
“This stereotype plays on people’s inherent discomfort with those who do not look the same as them, telling them that disfigurement—and disability,” says Laszlo Mizrahi in a statement.
“Joker,” billed as a psychological thriller, tells the DC Comics character’s back story. Arthur Fleck, aka the Joker, has a clear mental disability.
After being rejected in his bid to become a professional clown and stand-up comedian, Arthur is driven insane and becomes a psychotic criminal mastermind.
“I used to think that my life was a tragedy, but now I realize… it’s a comedy,” Arthur says in a voiceover for the trailer.
The film is directed by Todd Phillips based on a screenplay he wrote with Scott Silver.
Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Bill Camp, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Douglas Hodge, Marc Maron, Josh Pais, and Shea Whigham also appear.
The trailer is a scene setter. Arthur is a slow-witted man with an overwhelming desire to please that never ends well. He’s tormented and harassed until he finally breaks.
He also appears to have an unnatural relationship with his mother and is shown in various shots in a mental institution.
“Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” he asks himself.
Maybe it’s society that’s sick. Arthur is constantly bullied, until finally his green-hair and grease-paint persona emerges.
De Niro makes a cameo in the trailer as an impresario.
The film reflects executive producer Martin Scorsese’s dark noir style in films like “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” and “The King of Comedy.”
Leonardo DiCaprio was originally considered to play the Joker before Phoenix became attached to the project in February a year ago. He was cast the following July, and the majority of the cast had signed on by August.
“Joker,” distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures, hits theaters in October.
Check out the trailer below.