Free the People's Joker

TIFF Pulls Trans Film The People’s Joker Due to “Rights Issues”

This week, the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) was all set to premiere a trans take on the Joker’s origin story. I know what you’re thinking: a trans Joker origin story? …Yes, obviously. Why hasn’t this been made before? Unfortunately, those of us who have been waiting for such a film are going to have to wait even longer—TIFF has pulled The People’s Joker, citing “rights issues.”

Indie filmmaker Vera Drew directed, co-wrote, and starred in the film. Along with a trailer, she provided a synopsis on Twitter: “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 PEOPLE’S JOKER, a queer coming of age Joker origin tale.”

In between hilarious references to Batman’s rogues gallery of villains, the trailer defiantly bills the film as “an illegal comic book movie.” Hey, if Warner Bros. is going to cut an entire movie that would have featured the DCEU’s first trans character in a major film, at some point you have to take matters into your own hands.

Warner Bros.’s legal representation, however, did not see things that way. After only one screening, Drew was served a cease-and-desist, and the film was pulled from TIFF’s roster.

Drew is determined to fight the censorship, first by campaigning for TIFF’s people’s choice award under the hashtag #FREETHEPEOPLESJOKER.

Despite the takedown order, Drew’s take on the legal complications remains optimistic. “I think this film can be 100% distributed,” she explained in an interview with Collider. “It is completely protected under fair use and copyright law. Like a parody law. The only thing that makes it weird in both of those categories is nobody’s ever taken characters and IP and really personalized it in this way. So I think that’s the thing that really kind of makes it seem a lot more dangerous than I actually think it is. I mean, I get it, look, I put an ‘illegal comic book movie’ on the poster, but that was just to get your butts in the seats.”

And in a recent statement to the Daily Beast, Drew vowed never to bend to a corporation like Warner Bros. “Everyone is going to get the chance to see this film,” she said. “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.”

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