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Joker: Theater chain bans costumes amid heightened vigilance around release

By Matthew Jackson

After years of forbidding customers to wear masks or face paint in screenings due to security concerns, one of America's largest theater chains has announced a ban on costumes altogether for the duration of Joker's theatrical run. Landmark Theaters, the largest independent theater chain in America, announced this week that it will expand its costume ban — which previously included toy weapons as well as facial coverings — to include all body costumes while Joker is playing in its theaters.

"I want customers to be comfortable in their surroundings," Landmark president-CEO Ted Mundorff told The Hollywood Reporter.

The decision comes amid increased public concerns about the dark themes present in Joker — directed by Todd Phillips and starring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role — which include a statement from the family members of the victims of a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012 during a screening of The Dark Knight Rises. That statement raised the concern that the film — about a lonely, mentally ill man named Arthur Fleck (Phoenix) who gains notoriety and a sense of purpose through violence — could inspire copycats amid ongoing mass shootings in America. The theater where the Aurora shooting took place has decided not to screen the film, and Warner Bros. Pictures released a statement in response to the family members that, in part, affirmed that "neither the fictional character Joker, nor the film, is an endorsement of real-world violence of any kind."

Meanwhile, other theater chains have also released statements addressing potential customer concerns surrounding the film. Regal Cinemas noted that while they "do not believe the content or the existence of any movie is a cause or a signal for violence" and do not make security protocols public, they are communicating regularly with law enforcement for updated "security assessments." AMC Theaters also released a statement that served as a reminder that face paint, masks, and weapons or "items that would make other guests feel uncomfortable or detract from the moviegoing experience" are banned from its theaters. Body costumes remain permitted at AMC locations. 

Some law enforcement agencies are also taking notice of public concerns. The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement this week emphasizing that "no credible threats" surrounding the theatrical release of Joker have been detected, but that the department will still "maintain high visibility around theaters when it opens.”

"We encourage everyone to go out and enjoy all of the weekend leisure activities this city has to offer however, Angelenos should remain vigilant and always be aware of your surroundings," the LAPD said in a statement to Deadline. "As always if you see something, say something.”

As of this writing, the FBI is also not aware of any credible threats connected to the film. 

"As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and to promptly report suspicious activity to law enforcement," FBI spokeswoman Ann Parrillo said in a statement.

Further complicating these concerns, and the resulting debate over them, is the fact that Joker has only screened for audiences at film festivals in Venice and Toronto so far, and won't reach the general moviegoing public for several more days. When it does finally arrive in theaters, it's expected to be a contender for the biggest October box-office debut ever, and that level of buzz plus the acclaim the film's already received have led Phillips to ask fans to do their best to withhold judgment before seeing it.

“I would just argue that you might want to watch the movie, you might want to watch it with an open mind," he said. "The movie makes statements about a lack of love, childhood trauma, lack of compassion in the world. I think people can handle that message."

Joker is in theaters Oct. 4.