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‘Joker’ Co-Star Zazie Beetz Says Movie Urges ‘Empathy Towards Isolation’

The actress weighed in on fears that the film portrays Joaquin Phoenix's character too sympathetically and could incite violence.

Zazie BeetzMTV Movie & TV Awards, Arrivals, Los Angeles, USA - 16 Jun 2018

Zazie Beetz

Chelsea Lauren/REX/Shutterstock

Joker” co-star Zazie Beetz chimed in with her thoughts on the controversy surrounding what many critics have described as a sympathetic portrayal of Joaquin Phoenix’s character in the contentious film based on the DC universe character. Speaking to Variety on the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival, in a video that was just released, Beetz was asked to respond to the critique, and she said: “I think that it’s kind of an empathy towards isolation and kind of what is our duty as a society to address people who’ve slipped through the cracks in a way.”

She later described the film as “more of an observation on personalities who struggle.”

In the film, Beetz plays Sophie Dumond, a cynical single mother and purported love interest to Arthur Fleck (played by Joaquin Phoenix). A self-professed “huge fan” of Phoenix, Beetz previously said it was “an honor” to co-star with him, and that she learned a lot from the actor while on set.

Debate about “Joker” has shifted from its merits as a film to concerns that its main character might inspire real-world violence from men in similar psychological states.

Director Todd Phillips has expressed surprise at the backlash, stating, “I think it’s because outrage is a commodity, I think it’s something that has been a commodity for a while […] What’s outstanding to me in this discourse in this movie is how easily the far left can sound like the far right when it suits their agenda. It’s really been eye-opening for me.”

Phoenix recently walked out of an interview when asked if the film could inspire mass shooters. Following that incident, journalists were disinvited from the film’s Los Angeles premiere at TCL Chinese Theatre, with only photographers being allowed to interact with the filmmakers and cast on the carpet. In a statement, Warner Bros. said: “A lot has been said about Joker, and we just feel it’s time for people to see the film.”

An origin story set in 1981, the film follows Arthur Fleck, a mentally ill failed stand-up comedian who turns to a life of crime and chaos in Gotham City. In addition to Phoenix and Beetz, Robert De Niro, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Glenn Fleshler, Bill Camp, Shea Whigham, and Marc Maron round out the main cast.

“Joker” opened to blowout box office this weekend, earning $93.5 million in the United States and Canada, and $140.5 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $234 million.

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