A brand new Joker film made its world premiere last night but that might be the only time it ever plays. It’s called The People’s Joker and is described as “a queer coming-of-age story complete with a copyright-defying array of villains and heroes.” And that’s the problem right there. Future screenings of the film were pulled due to “rights issues.”
Variety reports that Warner Bros. Discovery, which holds the rights to the DC characters including the Joker, may have issued a cease and desist to the filmmaker, who subsequently canceled the rest of the movie’s screenings at the Toronto International Film Festival. “The filmmaker has withdrawn this film due to rights issues. We apologize for any inconvenience,” reads the official TIFF film page. io9 has reached out to Warner Bros. Discovery for comment or clarification but had yet to hear back as of publication.
Directed by and starring Vera Drew, The People’s Joker uses “multiple filmmaking techniques from animation to CGI to create a truly subversive comic-book epic,” according to a description from LA’s Beyond Fest, where the film is still, as of publication, scheduled to play in October (io9 has reached out for comment). “The People’s Joker announces loud and clear the arrival of a truly singular creative voice within the cinematic space much to our delight – a truly rebellious act of creation liberating and destructive, do not miss the chance to discover this story for the ages on the big screen.” Here’s the film’s teaser trailer.
Before the screening, Drew put up a cryptic tweet that seemed to acknowledge issues were forthcoming. “I have no clue how today goes and my team wants me to say nothing of course so I’ll stay vague…but whatever happens in the next few hours, I want you to know…if you’ve been waiting and aching to watch our movie, ur going to get to soon. Stay tuned and stay with me. Need ur help.”
After the screening, the filmmaker then went on to tweet multiple positive reactions to the film followed by people outraged over the cancellations. For example: “The People’s Joker is an absolute revelation, a retcon of the Batman mythos as a trans-coming-of-age story,” wrote critic Larry Fried. “Wildly hilarious, completely homemade, and radically transgressive. It’s the movie DC doesn’t want you to see, which is exactly why you NEED to see it.” Attendee Ryan Hancock agreed. “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,” he tweeted.
That sure sounds like a film audiences will be interested in seeing—and now that it has this aura of illegality around it, its mystique will only grow. Maybe this will be a good thing. Maybe not. But, hopefully, Drew and her team can claim fair use to the characters and not see the movie buried in the depths of Gotham City.
Update September 20, 6:30 p.m.: A few days after this news first broke, Drew tweeted that she’s decided to remove the film from all future festivals with the promise that it will be released.
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