• The Joker is a popular comic book villain and greatest adversary of the Batman
  • Warner Bros studios released the ‘Joker’ movie to a global audience on Friday, October 4th
  • The R-rated Todd Phillips film is a biography of one of Gotham City’s most disturbed criminal minds
  • It is also a chilling reminder of the ugly side of income inequality and a wake up call for Sub-Saharan governments that rule over sizable youth populations

Gotham city as a metaphor for Lagos

The Joker is a product of DC Comics who made his debut in 1940. Also known as the Clown Prince of Crime, he calls the fictional Gotham city home and shares it with superhero Batman. Gotham is crime infested, run by gangs, has inept leadership, poor infrastructure, and glaring income inequality. Many would liken it to Lagos city.

In a research note titled “Gangs of Lagos,” Consulting firm SBM Intelligence profiled a number of gangs in the economic hub of Nigeria. A noteworthy inclusion was the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) and an analysis of its relationship with gang activity. 

Neglect births nihilism

The story of the Joker, whose name in the movie is Arthur Fleck and played by Hollywood actor Joaquin Phoenix, is one that is familiar to many Africans in our present-day reality. A down-on-his-luck Clown-for-hire is struggling to make ends meet while caring for an ageing family member. The leadership that is supposed to create a level economic playing field in his city of Gotham has turned its back on the poor and only caters to the wealthiest.

The trailer below has a poignant scene where Arthur is told by this Therapist that they can no longer meet for future sessions. This is because the city has cut funding for such programs for the poor. A spotlight on the protagonist’s state of mind is provided when Arthur says “I always have negative thoughts.” 

How many 'Jokers' live among us?

The Joker film looks at how societal neglect of the underprivileged breeds despair, resentment, and a dangerous rage than can embroil an entire city. Sub-Saharan nations like Nigeria are home to large youth populations cut off from employment opportunities and welfare aid. With nowhere to turn, they are susceptible to influence from Gangs and terrorist cells which lead to violent consequences for other inhabitants of the state.

The film is a socioeconomic narrative about the need to have empathy for the less privileged. It points the finger not only at Government, but also citizens who treat the poor like they are invisible. The movie is a call to action to strengthen welfare services, pay attention to mental health, and provide economic opportunity for all without handpicking winners and losers.

Awards recognition

Last month, the movie won the Golden Lion award for Best Film at the Venice Film Festival. This is likely to boost its Oscar nomination chances ahead of the 2020 Academy Awards. The buzz around Joaquin Phoenix's performance suggests he might be in line for a Best Actor Academy Award nomination.

Joker cast at the Toronto Film Festival. From left: Robert De Niro, Director Todd Phillips, Joaquin Phoenix, Zazie Beetz, and Producer Bradley Cooper