The movie adaptation for Stephen King’s classic horror story It hits theatres Friday and while horror fans are excited to see the movie, some people don’t want to see Pennywise the clown return to pop culture.
World Clown Association president Pam Moody said the film is the latest hit to the clowning industry in recent years, following the creepy clown sightings in 2016 and the appearance of horror clowns on American Horror Story‘s latest season.
“Last year we were really blindsided,” Moody told The Hollywood Reporter of the “creepy clown” sightings in 2016 which spread across more than 20 U.S. states and parts of Canada leading to arrests, school warnings and police investigations. “We’ve since created a press kit to prepare clowns for the movie coming out.”
The guide, titled “WCA Stand on Scary Clowns !!,” reminds people that the “art of clown is something to be treasured and enjoyed” and that “just because someone wears a rubber Halloween mask, that does not make one a clown!” It also recommends “that young children not be exposed to horror movies” such as It.
“It all started with the original It,” Moody said, referring to the 1990 miniseries that starred Tim Curry as Pennywise the clown. “That introduced the concept of this character. It’s a science-fiction character. It’s not a clown and has nothing to do with pro clowning.”
Moody also said that the creepy clown industry has had an effect on the business of fun-loving clowns.
“People had school shows and library shows that were cancelled,” she said. “That’s very unfortunate. The very public we’re trying to deliver positive and important messages to aren’t getting them.”
In 2016, the reports first began when children in South Carolina claimed to have spotted clowns near an apartment complex. Following the incident, a number of clowns were spotted in various American states and by Oct. 2016, there were hundreds of “clown sightings” across the U.S. and Canada.
In Oct. 2016, Miles Leahy, who is the second vice-president of Clowns Canada, wasn’t laughing about the spate of clown sightings and was worried they could be bad for professional clowns everywhere.
The phenomenon, fuelled by social media, occupied and caused major disruption in public even garnering a response from the White House.
“People have to remember these are not clowns,” Leahy said. “These are people dressed up in a clown costume who enjoy the power of being able to terrorize people.”
Global News asked Leahy if he believes the new adaptation of It is causing real-life clowns to lose work.
Leahy, who has been a professional clown for over 32 years as Milo ‘T’ Clown, says that he’s instructed by the president of Clowns Canada to simply respond that “we would prefer the media did not cover stories like these.”
Leahy also says that the Clowns Canada realized that granting interviews during the “Scary clown” epidemic last fall only helped fuel the fire and that these people were thriving on the media coverage but once media lost interest, it all stopped.
Leahy suggests people check out a video which was made regarding scary clowns titled, “Real Clowns Care Not Scare.”
Kendall Savage, artistic director for Le Festival des Clowns de Montréal, said “to say the film It has done damage to all of clowns, I would say no. To say It has hurt traditional Circus Clown or Party entertainment, I would say yes a little, but not in the way you would think.”
Savage continued: “Behind the make-up and the costumes are mothers, fathers and friends who I have known to cancel gigs because they are afraid of being assaulted, or have received threats. I feel we are all responsible for that, including the media and how they are handling the situation. There is no one thing that has hurt the image of clown, but I am sure It has not helped.”
Savage said that when it comes down to the damage of clown’s careers, job opportunities, and image, “the only damage I am aware of is to some of the clowns I know have chosen to take off the red nose and make up, not because they want to, but because they are afraid to be assaulted. No one should be making choices in life because they fear for their lives.”
“If we are looking at the child entertainment and traditional circus clowns, that are mainly aimed at young audiences and the similarities in the TV and film industries costume choices, I would question people’s parenting skills. If these ‘types’ of clowns are the main focus, on a 16+ Rated R TV program, what are kids doing watching it?” Savage asked.
WATCH: How to talk to your kids about the ‘Creepy Clown’ phenomenon
In Oct. 2016, Dustin Kidd, a sociologist and pop culture expert at Temple University, said the panic over clowns was a new twist on a phenomenon as old as witch hunts.
“There is a sense that there is some evil force out there that we have to organize together to attack,” Kidd told the Associated Press. “If anything, it’s just distracting us from the real ordinary threats that we face in our everyday lives.”
The clown craze may have people suffering from caulrophobia, the clinical name for a fear of clowns, but Leahy said oftentimes, it’s because people can’t see behind the makeup.
“Clowns like Pennywise [from Stephen King’s It] are called a ‘white face clowns’ and there is no skin visible, so it’s hard to understand there is human being underneath that,” he said. “Not knowing whose behind it [can be scary].”
In April, King tweeted that “The clowns are pissed at me. Sorry, most are great. BUT … kids have always been scared of clowns. Don’t kill the messengers for the message.”
The clowns are pissed at me. Sorry, most are great. BUT…kids have always been scared of clowns. Don't kill the messengers for the message.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) April 10, 2017
David Katzenberg, producer of the new It film, told USA Today that he heard some clowns were “furious” about the film, but he finds the controversy to be “somewhat absurd.”
With King’s creepy clown thriller quickly approaching its release date, police in Pennsylvania found several red balloons tied to sewer grates in anticipation to the upcoming remake this week.
The Lititz Borough Police Department told CBS that officers “want the local prankster to know that we were completely terrified as we removed these balloons” across town — a practice similarly seen in It.
On Tuesday, the police department posted about the “creative” prank on Facebook.
“Search ‘It’ and watch the preview, we suggest watching it with a friend or coworker with all the lights on and the sound down,” the department warned.
With the movie’s upcoming release and Halloween right around the corner, Pennsylvania State Police also warned about possible.
“The creepy clown craze in September 2016 resulted in at least a dozen [arrests] in Georgia, Alabama and Virginia for either taking part in the menacing stunt or for making false reports,” Pennsylvania State Police said. “With the fall of 2017 upon us, it is anticipated that similar ‘creepy clown’ sightings could be reported starting as soon as September, in part due to the fact that the movie It will be released.”
Stephen Detz with the Lititz Borough Police Department told CBS News that wearing a clown costume is not a crime but the person wearing the outfit should remember to act responsibly.
“They should respect others boundaries. Simply wearing a clown mask or dressing up as a clown isn’t a crime — that’s when they begin harassing or assaulting people or things like that,” Detz said. “If they are showing support for a movie that’s not a problem. It’s when they start trying to harass or annoy people with their presence.”
—With files from Andrew Russell