In the latest development regarding the ongoing controversy surrounding The People’s Joker, director Vera Drew has withdrawn the film from all previously announced festivals until further notice.
The director took to Twitter on Tuesday, September 20th to announce the decision, stating, “As THE PEOPLE’S JOKER team and I work to resolve our previously reported ‘rights issues,’ I have decided to pull our film from all future film festivals for the time being.”
The People’s Joker, a raucous reimagining of the Batman mythology as a trans coming-of-age story, has been making headlines over the last several days following its withdrawal from the Toronto International Film Festival. After premiering as part of the Midnight Madness section, all future screenings were promptly canceled due to “rights issues.”
The film, which parodies prominent DC characters, locations, and storylines, was not authorized by either Warner Bros. or DC Comics. However, according to the film’s opening disclaimer, Drew believes she is legally protected by the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, which protects her parody as fair use.
According to an earlier statement made by Drew, also on Twitter, Drew received an “angry letter” from “a media conglomerate that shall remain nameless” pressuring her to not screen the film. Many interpreted this to mean Warner Bros. and DC Comics sent her a cease and desist letter, however Drew confirmed that this was misreported. Neither company has made a statement on the film as of this reporting.
Though the consequences for screening the film are currently unclear, the letter was enough to inspire further cancellations. “We had literally 10 incredible festivals all over the world ready and willing to exhibit this film,” says Drew. Some of those festivals include genre hotspots like Fantastic Fest in Austin and Beyond Fest in Los Angeles.
Following the film’s initial withdrawal from TIFF, Drew encouraged fans to support the film under the hashtag “#FREETHEPEOPLESJOKER.” The film has since become a hot topic in the festival community and even began trending in Canada.
“It’s taken all the emotional strength and courage I have in me to recalibrate my brain into accepting that this is what is best for the future of our film,” continues Drew, clarifying that “this is not where the story ends; it’s just the beginning. I promise that everyone – everywhere – is going to be able to see this film soon, first in a theater and then in the comfort of their home,” Drew also confirmed.
One could speculate that the decision to withdraw the film from all future festivals has more to do with finding a distribution partner than legal ramifications. In that same earlier statement, Drew confirmed they are actively seeking a distribution partner. It is very possible that Drew is holding off on future festival screenings to preserve exclusivity, making it a more attractive prospect for distribution. The implication of a dedicated theatrical run supports this theory.
Should Drew pursue a theatrical release as well as legal action, The People’s Joker is on track to blow up the larger conversation about parody, fair use, and copyright law.