A new movie about DC character the Joker – called The People’s Joker – has been pulled from a pair of festivals over copyright issues.
UPDATE: The following is a new statement released by The People’s Joker director Vera Drew:
The eve of our premiere, a media conglomerate that shall remain nameless sent me an angry letter (misreported as a “cease and desist”) pressuring to not screen. Any other film festival would have pulled us immediately, but after being fully transparent with TIFF, we agreed to premiere as planned while scaling back our later screenings to mitigate potential blowback. It was disappointing (especially since I went to great lengths with legal counsel to have it fall under parody/fair use) but I made this choice to protect our film’s future and to protect our new friends at TIFF who have been some of TPJ’s biggest advocates.
The People’s Joker will screen again very soon at several other festivals worldwide. We are humbly seeking a distribution partner who believes in what we are doing, will protect us, and will eventually help us make this film accessible to trans people and their families everywhere. FREE THE PEOPLE’S JOKER.
Original article follows…
The story so far
The People’s Joker – a new, unofficial movie about the “clown prince of crime” – was due to screen worldwide during the present festival season.
But following the film’s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival this week, it has been withdrawn over rights issues.
Meaning The People’s Joker will no longer play at TIFF, nor will it screen at next week’s Fantastic Fest in Austin, as had been the plan.
What is The People’s Joker?
Co-written and directed by Vera Drew, The People’s Joker is described as follows on IMDb: “An aspiring clown grappling with her gender identity combats a fascistic caped crusader.”
While when Tweeting about the below trailer, Drew pitched it as follows: “After years of numbing herself with Smylex, an unfunny clown named Joker grapples with gender identity, first love, and a fascist caped crusader all while founding an illegal comedy theater in Gotham City.”
The film debuted in the Midnight Madness strand at Toronto, with the following appearing onscreen before the premiere…
This film is a parody and is at present time completely unauthorized by DC Comics, Warner Brothers or anyone claiming ownership of the trademarks therein (eg Joker, Batman, etc.). Aside from licensed stock, all video and graphics featured in the film are original materials, often recreations of iconic comic book movie set pieces created by Vera Drew and a team of over 100 independent artists and filmmakers on three separate continents during the Covid-19 pandemic.
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Any copyright or trademark infringement was not done intentionally. After consulting with counsel, the director believes in good faith that use of these names and characters in an autobiographical context of her personal coming-out story is protected by Section 107 of the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, which allows ‘fair use’ for purposes such as a relevant criticism, social commentary or education.
Why was the film pulled from TIFF and Fantastic Fest?
The People’s Joker likely received a “cease-and-desist” order at some point, as soon after said premiere, TIFF’s website carried a message stating: “The filmmaker has withdrawn this film due to rights issues. We apologize for any inconvenience.”
But filmmaker Vera Drew isn’t done there, as she then issued her own statement via Daily Beast, saying: “Everyone is going to get the chance to see this film. I don’t respond well to bullying or pressure from faceless institutions. It only emboldens me and what I was saying with this film.
“We’re looking for buyers and distribution partners who will protect us and make this film accessible to trans people and their families everywhere.”
What did critics say about The People’s Joker?
The critics who did get to see The People’s Joker at TIFF were almost universal in their praise…
Daily Beast stated: “The best trick in People’s Joker’s bag is its tone – reliably humorous, tart with sarcasm, and impressively focused when honing in on a satirical target. Even at its wildest and loudest, it’s never difficult to hear what this comedy wants to say.
Bloody Disgusting was impressed by the visuals: “The vast majority of the film was shot on green screen, lending the film a RuPaul’s Drag Race film challenge vibe that speaks to the DIY nature of the production, which was outsourced to a hundred independent artists during the pandemic… The low-fi visual aesthetics take a moment to get used to, but eventually, it complements the audacious, “no holds barred” filmmaking style, particularly as the film queers up not just the Joker, but the entire Batman universe.”
Polygon liked the coming-of-age aspect: “Lengthy discussions about the role of comedians as truth-tellers between Joker and the Penguin are standard stuff for podcasts and documentaries about the art form. Comedic first-person trans coming-of-age narratives, particularly ones where the transition is accomplished by falling into a vat of feminizing hormones, are more rare. Dedicated “to mom and Joel Schumacher,” The People’s Joker is also a sincere exploration of Vera’s journey toward self-realization, beginning with her childhood as a “miserable little girl” trapped in a boy’s body in Smallville.”
Finally, Dread Central says the film announces the arrival of a new filmmaking talent in Vera Drew: “The People’s Joker may not be for everyone. But it certainly has the potential to empower those who struggle to feel seen in any of the current multiverses. At the very least, it should serve as an iconic origin story for Drew, whose natural star power shines brighter than any bat signal I’ve seen to date.”
Rest assured, we’ll have more news on The People’s Joker as-and-when it breaks.