‘The People’s Joker’ Filmmaker Says She Was Pressured Not to Screen in Toronto by ‘Angry Letter’ From ‘Media Conglomerate’

Vera Drew maintains the film, which positions the DC villain as a trans comic, is protected under fair use and is hoping to secure distribution


One of the most buzzed-about films out of the Toronto International Film Festival is a movie that was barely screened there at all, and now “The People’s Joker” filmmaker Vera Drew is speaking out about what happens next.

As Drew explained in a social media post Thursday, on the eve of the film’s premiere, “a media conglomerate that shall remain nameless sent me an angry letter (misreported as a “cease and desist”) pressuring to not screen.”

“The People’s Joker” is a mixed media film set in Gotham City that re-imagines Batman villain, the Joker, as a trans person in a city where comedy has been criminalized. As an independent film, it was made by Drew without permission from Warner Bros. Discovery, but the filmmaker maintains it’s protected by fair use and copyright law.

“Any other film festival would have pulled us immediately,” Drew’s statement continues, “But after being fully transparent with TIFF, we agreed to premiere as planned while sacling 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 PTJ’s biggest advocates.”

Drew added that the film will continue screening in the hopes of securing a distribution partner.

“’The People’s Joker’ will screen again very soon at several other festivals worldwide,” she wrote. “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.”

The statement concludes, “FREE THE PEOPLE’S JOKER.”

Drew previously explained to Collider why she believes the film falls under fair use protection and thus can be distributed.

“I think this film can be 100% distributed,” Drew said. “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.”

The filmmaker — who was inspired to make the movie after seeing Todd Phillips’ 2019 film “Joker” — continued, “There’s literally no reason for anybody to worry, I think about legal repercussions with this. Without getting into it, we’ve gone really far to ensure that we could do this. I probably wouldn’t have spent two years of my life making an actually illegal Joker movie.”