While at the SFFILM Awards to present Lulu Wang with the Kanbar Award for Storytelling for her film The Farewell, Riley discussed his issues with the Todd Phillips DC film that retells the Joker’s origin story. While the film tries to posit that the Joker becomes a symbol of some sort of anarchist social rebellion, Riley said the film actually doesn’t change anything about the superhero/supervillain narrative.
“Excellent performances and you know, I love Joaquin Phoenix and hope to work with him,” said Riley to IndieWire. “But basically it wasn’t flipping the superhero story on its head; it was doing the same exact thing that they all do, which is [say] ‘rebellion is crazy.’ That’s what they told you, that these people are rebelling and they have no real reason to.”
Riley said The Dark Knight also asserted the same narrative.
“That’s the same thing that The Dark Knight tried to tell us. You know, The Dark Knight, they made it more like Occupy after Occupy happened because they wanted to make this statement,” Riley said, referencing the 2011 social movement that became the basis for Tom Hardy’s villain character Bane.
Riley continued, saying that “these superhero movies are cop movies,” and that cop narratives say “that those in poverty are there because they made the wrong choices, that the impoverished are in poverty because of their own mistakes and their own shortcomings, and it has nothing to do with the system.” He also said that Joker reinforces the idea that “the poor folks are stupid and when they rebel, it’s because they’re angry, and actually rich people had nothing to do with them being poor. In actuality,” he continued, “those that are rich got rich off of exploiting the workers.”
Of course, this isn’t the first time Riley has given his opinion on a film. Past films he’s discussed in the media include Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman.
From Harlem to Hollywood, get the Black entertainment news you need in your inbox daily.