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Elliot Rodger killing sparks Hollywood war

Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday's essay on the Californian killings has angered director Judd Apatow and actor Seth Rogen.

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In the wake of a knife and gun rampage in the sleepy California town of Santa Barbara which left seven people dead, including the gunman, and more than a dozen people injured, there is an inevitable rush to assign blame.

The Washington Post's film critic Ann Hornaday chose a familiar target: movies. In particular, she wrote, films which "revolve around vigilantism and sexual wish-fulfillment", in an essay intended to tap into the video diary left behind by the alleged gunman, 22-year-old Elliot Rodger.

Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow slamming critic Ann Hornaday on Twitter.

Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow slamming critic Ann Hornaday on Twitter.

In it, Rodger spoke of loneliness, frustration and jealousy of his sexually active peer group.

"All you girls who rejected me, looked down upon me, you know, treated me like scum while you gave yourselves to other men," Rodger said. "And all of you men for living a better life than me, all of you sexually active men. I hate you. I hate all of you."

In the column, Hornaday said that while movies did not necessarily reflect reality, they "powerfully condition what we desire, expect and feel we deserve from it".

Finger pointing at movies over US mass killing ... Seth Rogen (left) angry his film, <i>Bad Neighbours</i> (starring Zac Effron), was singled out.

Finger pointing at movies over US mass killing ... Seth Rogen (left) angry his film, Bad Neighbours (starring Zac Effron), was singled out.

"If our cinematic grammar is one of violence, sexual conquest and macho swagger, thanks to male studio executives who green-light projects according to their own pathetic predilections, no one should be surprised when those impulses take luridly literal form in the culture at large," she said.

Hornaday then singled out only one film - Neighbors, released as Bad Neighbours outside the United States, which stars Seth Rogen - and made specific reference to Judd Apatow, the producer of films such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Bridesmaids and the TV series Girls. Apatow was the only producer mentioned by name in the essay.

"When the dominant medium of our age, both as art form and industrial practice, is in the hands of one gender, what may start out as harmless escapist fantasies can, through repetition and amplification, become distortions and dangerous lies," she wrote.

A woman views a sidewalk memorial for Katie Cooper and Veronica Weiss, two of the victims of a shooting rampage by Elliott Rodger, outside the Delta Phi sorority house in the Isla Vista neighborhood of Goleta, California.

A woman views a sidewalk memorial for Katie Cooper and Veronica Weiss, two of the victims of a shooting rampage by Elliott Rodger, outside the Delta Phi sorority house in the Isla Vista neighborhood of Goleta, California. Photo: AP

But her remarks have provoked a stormy debate on social media about blame attribution, as well as angry responses from Rogen and Apatow.

"I find your article horribly insulting and misinformed," Rogen wrote to Hornaday on the social media platform Twitter. "How dare you imply that me getting girls in movies caused a lunatic to go on a rampage?"

Apatow accused Hornaday of using the tragedy to promote herself.

Shooter .. Elliott Rodger.

Shooter .. Elliott Rodger. Photo: AP

Asked by a member of the public on social media why it is "always everything but mental illness?", Apatow replied: "Because that doesn't sell papers."

Apatow also expressed frustration at how the resulting fracas on social media risks overshadowing the bigger conversation. "Here is how it all works. Ann says something thoughtless. I say it is wrong then CNN asks everyone to debate and it becomes TV," he said.

Comedian Sarah Silverman also weighed into the debate, saying: "It's way easier to blame art than to blame a fundamental lack in mental health, education and gun control."

Director Judd Apatow.

Director Judd Apatow.

Hornaday responded to the controversy, filming a video statement posted on The Washington Post's website in which she said she "by no means meant to cast blame on those movies or Judd Apatow's work".

"I certainly understand how Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow might feel defensive because I did single them out," Hornaday said.

Hornaday also denied the accusation of using the tragedy to promote herself.

"I was not using the grievous episode in Isla Vista to make myself more famous, nor was I casting blame on the movies for Rodger’s actions," she said.

"Rather, in my capacity as a movie critic, I was looking at the video as a lens through which to examine questions about sexism, insecurity and entitlement, how they’ve threaded their way through an entertainment culture historically dominated by men and how they’ve shaped our own expectations as individuals and a culture."