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Boots Riley criticizes Joker, says superhero films are “cop movies”

The rapper and director of Sorry To Bother You is less than impressed by modern blockbusters.

December 11, 2019
Boots Riley criticizes <i>Joker</i>, says superhero films are “cop movies” Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images  

Boots Riley spoke with IndieWire last week at the SFFILM awards, and the rapper and director of the hit Sorry To Bother You made some reliably pointed criticisms Joker and the superhero genre.

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Riley praised Joaquin Phoenix's performance as the Batman villain, but rejected the notion that the revisionist, character-centered origin story of Joker did anything unique from other superhero films:

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"[Joker] was doing the same exact thing that [superhero films] 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... The Joker movie reinforces that by telling you [that] not only are these folks there because of who they are, [but 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, those that are rich got rich off of exploiting the workers."

Elaborating on his criticisms of superhero films, Riley pointed to Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, which has been criticized for its demeaning depiction of protestors:

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"The Dark Knight [Rises], they made it more like Occupy after Occupy happened because they wanted to make this statement… these superhero movies are cop movies [which 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."

Riley's in good company when criticizing superhero movies. Martin Scorsese recently kicked off a firestorm when he said that superhero films "aren't cinema." In a 2017 interview resurfaced this year, Watchmen co-creator Alan Moore said superheroes "are still very much white supremacist dreams of the master race," and said that "a good argument can be made" for D.W. Griffith's 1915 KKK-lauding epic Birth of a Nation to be known as "the first American superhero movie."

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Boots Riley criticizes Joker, says superhero films are “cop movies”