Bernhard Goetz's crime and Joker parallels: Trial By Media explores case which inspired the movie

Trial By Media is Netflix’s latest true crime endeavour. The six-part docuseries was released on Monday, May 11th and already has gained a tonne of interest online.It explores six famous crime cases in America which were majorly sensationalised and impacted by press and public opinion.

True crime is a well-loved genre and given the high profile nature of some of the featured cases, it does not come as a surprise that they have been the basis of films and other forms of media. In fact, episode 5’s case – the horrific sexual assault on Cheryl Araujo – was the basis of the 1988 film The Accused.

But the biggest surprise to many is that episode 2’s Bernhard Goetz was the real-life inspiration for Todd Phillips’s Oscar-winning film Joker.

So what are the parallels between the real-life Joker and the movie?

Screenshot: Trial By Media S1 E2 – Netflix

Trial By Media takes on Bernhard Goetz

On December 22th, 1984, Bernhard Goetz shot four unarmed teenagers – Barry Allen, Troy Canty, Darrell Cabey and James Ramseur – on the NYC subway. None of the teenagers died but they were wounded, one significantly so.

Bernhard Goetz fled from the scene and the police were unable to track him down. This earned him the nickname of the “Subway Vigilante.”

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Goetz handed himself in to the police, however claimed that the four teenagers had demanded money from him and intimidated him. This account is now largely accepted as false, with many believing the teenagers’ narrative and accepting that Goetz greatly overacted.

Screenshot: Sketch of the “Subway Vigilante” in Trial By Media S1 E2 – Netflix

Subway Vigilante and Joker

Parallels between the “Subway Vigilante” crime and the Joker’s subway murder scene do not just lie on the fact that they take place in a similar location.

At the time of Goetz’s crime, New York was in the sway of a violent crime crisis and racial tensions were mounting. The four teenagers Goetz shot were black and subject to extreme racial prejudice from the press and public.

This hostile context resulted in some of the public praising the “Subway Vigilante’s” actions, with many hailing him as a hero.

Goetz’s vindication is paralleled in Joker, as the anti-capitalist sentiment that brews in Gotham City is largely stoked by the Joker’s subway murder of three ‘city boys’. Joker subsequently becomes a hero for the people in the film.

Joaquin Phoenix, Michael Benz, Ben Warheit, Carl Lundstedt, and Mick Szal in Joker (2019) – Warner Bros.

What happened to Bernhard Goetz?

Bernhard Goetz was acquitted of attempted murder in 1987 but he did have to spend eight and a half months behind bars for carrying an illegal firearm. It is believed he still lives in New York.

He ran for mayor back in 2001 and for public advocate in 2005. He lost in both races.

Goetz has also continued to have run-ins with the law and was arrested in 2013 for attempting to sell an undercover police officer marijuana.




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