After only a single screening at TIFF’s Midnight Madness on September 14th, filmmaker Vera Drew’s comic book movie satire The People’s Joker – billed as ““an illegal comic book movie about a transgender clown named Joker” – has been pulled from the festival and subsequent screenings have been cancelled. The reason? Apparent rights issues with studio Warner Bros.
The Toronto International Film Festival posted the following message on the film’s event page:
“The filmmaker has withdrawn this film due to rights issues. We apologize for any inconvenience. Current ticket holders will receive an email from TIFF Customer Relations with information on their purchase.”
This is hugely disappointing news for the filmmakers and TIFF audiences hoping to see the film, but this situation is not entirely surprising given the way the movie has been positioned. Studio Warner Bros. is notoriously protective of its DC Comics brand and characters like The Joker and Batman, so this may be a matter of its legal department sending both TIFF and the film a cease and desist.
Filmmaker Vera Drew has not commented on the matter as of yet, but did retweet the following tweet early this morning seemingly confirming that it was WB that served a cease and desist:
The move obviously raises many questions about what constitutes fair use of famous comic book characters, as well as how major movie studios and rights holders often have a differing view from artists on what constitutes satire. Unfortunately the ultimate judges in Toronto – the festival’s audience – won’t have the opportunity to weigh in after last night’s now-final screening.
As of the publication of this article, The People’s Joker is still eligible for the People’s Choice Midnight Madness award. What happens if the film gets enough votes and wins the award? Would a second screening at the end of the festival still happen?
Update: The People’s Joker filmmaker Vera Drew and TIFF’s Midnight Madness programmer Peter Kuplowsky have posted the following statements seemingly confirming that a cease and desist was issued by WB: