The Joker to stereotype people with mental illness?

Posted on 20 June 2019
By Chiara Costa
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Hollywood director Todd Philips has confirmed that his next movie, “Joker”, will be R rated in the USA – so in the UK it is destined for a 15 certificate.

By all accounts “Joker” will be a gloomy tale of a mentally disturbed man rather than the Clown Prince of Crime.

But the style of the film is set to incense campaigners who have called for an end to cinema stereotyping of people suffering from mental illness.

“Put on a happy face” is the catchphrase of the Joker trailer .

In the title role Joaquin Phoenix is a dark Joker, echoing Heath Ledger’s 2008 performance in The Dark Knight.

Phoenix will portray a psychopath with a menacing face contorted into a red smile – belying his heartache(underlined by Jimmy Durante’s vocals in the trailer).

Fans of the Joker and Batman, are looking forward eagerly to this Warner Bros retelling of the tale.

Instagram user angelica88rocha said: “I can’t wait to watch the film! It’s the most expected one for me.”

On his Instagram page, Todd Philips carried a picture of Joaquin Phoenix getting the finishing touches to his face make-up as the iconic villain.

And in the comment section, he confirmed the rating on his film. He said: “It will be Rated R. I’ve been asked this a lot. Just assumed people knew. Sorry.”

Makeup also set a big difference between this new Joker and the previous. Ledger’s Joker had the makeup of a maniac, smudged and with very dark eyeshadow, Jared Leto’s Joker makeup was hip-hop, the famous scary smirk tattooed on his hand and lots of tattoos.

Phoenix’s Joker makeup instead, might have been inspired by the American serial killer Pogo the Clown, with blue triangles above his eyes and the sharp, exaggerated red smile.

Campaginer Dr Peter Byrne of Newham University Hospital and Honorary Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry at University College London argues that it is time for a change.

He said: “There is a large credibility gap between popular films and reality, and many over-the-top films play to the worst public prejudices.

“Everyone with a mental illness and those who care for them, personally and professionally, wants to engage in a dialogue with film commentators and filmmakers to broaden understanding.

“We propose three new approaches for everyone who makes or consumes film.

“1. Talk to people with mental health problems, and learn from people not the cinema stereotypes

“2. Mind your language: check out the dictionary to see how psychotic means something very different from psychopathic. Try people first language – a policeman with a mental illness, not schizo, psycho or nutter.

“3. Abandon clichés. Think of your favourite films. Are the characters well-drawn, full of depth and contradictions?

“People with mental health problems are interesting people and have had complex experiences. Don’t undersell these with stereotypes.

“It may take a generation, but wafer-thin mental illness stereotypes could become as rare as homophobia or racism in the cinema of the future. Or if not as rare, just as unacceptable.”

The Joker will explore the back story of Arthur Fleck, a mentally disturbed, impoverished stand-up comedian disregarded by society until he shows himself to the public as the Batman’s arch enemy.

The plot of the movie will not follow the canonical story of the comic books and while some fans are happy about this choice, others are not.

A fan, told Philips to follow the original narrative to identify how the Joker really ticks.

But the director dismissed the criticism and said “You might want to skip this one.”

Joker is scheduled for release in the UK cinemas on October 4th.