The People’s Joker is a parody of a variety of DC Comics characters and franchises that reframes the well-known source material as a queer coming-of-age story. The film has drawn plenty of attention for its singular creative vision, but some have been judgmental as studios threaten to shut the film down.


Parody is something of a lost art form on the big screen, but it’s alive and well online. Making fun of the handful of billion-dollar studios and all the well-known IP they profit off of is always a dangerous game. Using the characters and iconography that they hoard as tools of that mockery can be even more challenging.

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RELATED: The People’s Joker Pulled From TIFF Over ‘Rights Issues’ After World Premiere

Vera Drew is the creative mind behind The People’s Joker and anyone with a passing familiarity with her work in the industry would not be shocked by that. She contributed to the classic internet outlets Everything is Terrible and Highland Park TV before being brought into more prestigious outlets. A ton of her career has been in the orbit of beloved absurdists Tim and Eric, including the delightfully bizarre “Tim and Eric Quiz”. She was nominated for an Emmy for her editing work on Sacha Baron Cohen’s 2018 series Who is America?. Drew’s work is distinct, visceral, and absurd, while still being sincere enough to grip the heartstrings. Drew crowdfunded her first feature film after being inspired by Todd Phillips’ Joker. She went on to direct, co-write, edit and star in the project.

The People’s Joker premiered at TIFF, only to have scheduled re-screenings canceled over rights concerns. The film follows Vera Drew as Vera, a transgender woman who reinvents herself as Joker the Harlequin and sets out on a standup comedy career. It’s an absurd first-person exploration of her transition, complete with bizarre references to countless Batman or Bat-adjacent media icons. It feels exactly like the kind of material Drew has made her unique stamp on the medium. There’s a bit of Adult Swim and a ton of content that feels pulled straight from the “weird” corner of the internet. It’s far from meaningless comic absurdity, it’s far too moving to be as empty as some of Adult Swim’s weaker output. Unfortunately, it might not be available for most audiences to see any time soon.

The project began as a challenge from the film’s co-writer Bri LeRose, which would see Vera Drew re-edit Todd Phillips’ Joker. That concept evolved into an edit of every Batman film, along with dozens of other movies to tell a single story. Drew reportedly found herself connecting to the narrative, driving her to make a more original work out of the material. More than 100 artists provided art for the film, contributing everything from backdrops to characters. The cast includes a few big names, including Tim Heidecker, Tim and Eric vet David Liebe Hart, comedy legend Scott Aukerman, and even Bob Odenkirk. The film has been celebrated upon its premiere, but the copyright issue that surrounds it has eclipsed it in cultural cache.

The People’s Joker is a work of parody and satire. It directly mocks the source material in a variety of ways that wouldn’t be as impactful without the IP it’s referencing. The general assumed consensus is that Warner Bros. Discovery made an effort to keep the film from screening. This isn’t necessarily true. TIFF states that “the filmmaker withdrew the film due to rights issues”. Drew herself states that she received “an angry letter” from “a media conglomerate.” Though the marketing playfully proclaims the film as illegal, it also points out the copyright law that should leave it free and clear to exist. US copyright law generally allows the usage of copyrighted material in the case of parody. Drew has reportedly attempted to earn a copyright extension due to the film’s parody status.

Fair use is a tough area of law that is often made by the individual opinion of a judge. The seminal case on the topic is probably still Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc. That 1994 case established that even a parody made explicitly for commercial use isn’t a violation of fair use. Vera Drew is reportedly seeking a distributor for The People’s Joker. It’s hard to know whether Warner Bros. or any other media conglomerate seeks to stop the film’s release. By the typical standards applied semi-fairly by the US legal system, the film should have a right to exist. If the issue goes to court, it could set some very unpleasant precedent if Drew is unsuccessful. Given the current state of discourse around trans people, this seems destined to become something of a culture war issue.

The People’s Joker is a work of parody that deserves to be available to the viewers who need it. It’s hard to know how the project will continue or when it will become visible to audiences again. For the fate of a fascinating piece of filmmaking and a truly unique talent, but also for the future of creative people making something unique out of existing IP, The People’s Joker must have the right to exist.

MORE: Top Gun: Maverick Faces Legal Enemy Fire As New Copyright Lawsuit Surfaces



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