Emmy-nominated filmmaker Vera Drew’s crowdfunded debut feature The People’s Joker was set to premiere at the 2022 Toronto Film Festival… until it wasn’t
The unauthorized parody, which takes a sledgehammer to many of the iconic Batman villain’s onscreen appearances, was pulled off the iconic film festival’s lineup following ‘rights issues’ — while Drew hasn’t yet put up a statement, recent activity on her Twitter feed indicated that the Warner Bros. legal team issued a cease-and-desist against the film — which may never see the light of day.
That said, Drew’s official trailer still exists on YouTube — take a look below:
Here’s Drew’s original statement on the film:
“After years numbing herself with irony and an inhalant called Smylex, an unfunny aspiring clown grapples with gender identity, first love, and old foes all while founding an illegal comedy theater in Gotham City. It’s a queer coming-of-age Joker Origin story. Completely unlicensed by DC and Warner Brothers. Starring and directed by Vera Drew (“Beef House,” “Who Is America”). Featuring the work of 200 independent artists on three separate continents, all made during a global pandemic.”
Did Warner Bros. Go Too Far?
The film’s first screening took place as part of the festival’s Midnight Madness segment, sharing the screen with highly-awaited films such as Weird: The Al Yankovic Story. Drew expected some sort of legal trouble to befall her project, but nothing came as the weeks drew nearer to TIFF 2022.
Unfortunately, by now, TIFF has issued an apology on their website to ticket holders, Drew has pulled the film off shelves, and Warner Bros. has shut down a project that… well, wouldn’t have really made a difference to them.
For starters, The People’s Joker is 100% camp-parody in nature — while it does use several licensed elements from the Batman universe, it also argued for legality under Fair Use in a title card at the start of its 92-minute runtime. This essentially means that under First Amendment laws, parodies such as Drew’s film should be protected, given that they diverge significantly from the source material.
Warner’s decision to smack the indie film down comes at a volatile moment for the company, which has endured multiple public scandals and a recent merger-induced bloodbath, while hype gradually grows for the upcoming Joker sequel. People’s Joker defenders online have already begun rallying for the film to win TIFF’s People’s Choice Award in defiance of the apparent rights claim.
Speaking to The Daily Beast before the film’s withdrawal, Drew explained that part of her intention with the film was to revisit and bend comic book lore as a form of modern mythology — which given the crazed fanbases they command across the world, is a pretty interesting point.
“If these are our modern myths, and if the purpose of myth is to learn about the human experience and grow and also chart your progress—the hero’s journey and all that stuff—let’s actually do that earnestly with these characters,” the filmmaker said.
The film doesn’t just focus on the Batman elements, either. It also parodies several aspects of the multi-million-dollar American comedy industry, with SNL’s Sarah Sherman taking on an ironic role that aims to roast the late-night comedy show she joined in 2021.
“I wanted to spend way too much time on backgrounds that normally I would get noted to death on,” Drew said before adding with a laugh, “I wanted to break every single rule that I had been told by all of my bosses—many of whom are in this movie.”
Unfortunately, Warner Bros., which has been dragged to hell and back for a series of controversial business decisions in recent months, failed to see Drew’s vision and hasn’t bothered to release a statement on it either. On the bright side, a host of fans on Twitter have raised awareness of the film, and are encouraging ticket-holding voters to support it for the festival’s ‘People’s Choice’ award.
Very funny how Warner Bros has brought far more attention to The People’s Joker than had they let it play uninterrupted. Classic Streisand Effect. This is why Disney didn’t do anything with that movie that was illegally shot in DisneyWorld.
— Josh Parham (@JRParham) September 15, 2022
THE PEOPLE’S JOKER:
I genuinely believe this is a piece of accessible independent art that will save the lives of many trans and queer kids and we need to do whatever we can to make sure they get to see it. #TIFF22
— Ryan Hancock @ #TIFF22 (@ryanhancock9) September 14, 2022
The People’s Joker is so funny and incisive and totally aesthetically unique but never at the expense its foundation as a warm-hearted coming of age story??? One of the best Midnight Madness experiences I’ve ever had. Why you stay up!!!!
— Sam Sutherland (@samsthrlnd) September 14, 2022
“I made a very bizarre and strange movie,” Drew said, “but I love Batman. I love Joker, and I’ve loved these characters—my entire life. They’re so important to me.”
Lead Image: Haunted Gay Ride Productions