Popular media tends to paint people with mental illnesses as people with an inclination towards violence. These portrayals are inaccurate and while fictional, shape public perception of people with mental illnesses.
The Joker is a classic character that gets revisited every several years, and every time his role is characterized by stereotypes of mentally ill people, and people applaud and celebrate these portrayals en masse.
He is a mass murderer, bank robber, and terrorist on a grand scale and besides his clown makeup, is known for his instability and his “insanity.”
Often the Joker’s origin is that of a man who is abused and turns his abuse against society through violence. In this upcoming Warner Bros. depiction, he is a mentally ill person whose illness becomes so unmanageable, he devolves into violence.
The trailer makes specific reference to the Joker being someone who is mentally ill. They even go so far as to show imagery parallel to how people with mental illnesses can be treated in real life, however, the idea that he would then become a massive terrorist is simply not true.
The reason this is especially problematic is because in real life, people with mental illnesses are criminalized for their behavior as opposed to helped, and are criminalized at a disproportionate rate to the amount of crime they are responsible for. While making up only 3-5% of violent acts, they make up for a rising percent of the prison population.
In New York in 2000, there were only 5,000 patients with a mental illness in a hospital, but 72,000 in the New York Department of Corrections, 8 times as much as it was in 1973.
While we cannot define any one problem as the cause of this kind of discrimination, negative representation in a likely box office breaking film is not helping.
Art has always shaped the way the public perceives groups of people. When “Birth Of A Nation” came out, there was a resurgence of the Klu Klux Klan, and they began using their iconic burning cross after it was used in the movie.
When writers chose to create characters based on problematic stereotypes, it is on the consumer to respond. We have the option of supporting harmful stereotypes by seeing the movie, or the option of telling these creators we are not willing to support stereotypical characters and boycott movies like the Joker.
While fiction has no obligation to be based in reality, creators need to be considerate about how their characters, although not fictional, will have an impact on how people act in real life. This is especially true for marginalized groups of people, and we can no longer let problematic projects gain such wide success.
We have come too far as a society both educationally and creatively to support a tired trope such as a person with a mental illness becoming unhinged and hurting people. There is simply no excuse for us to continue to support films like the joker. Many more will come, but the Joker is a quickly upcoming opportunity to show Hollywood that these problematic tropes will no longer be an option and we can only do that by not showing up.