Why Did Warner Bros. Shut Down Screenings of an Indie ‘Joker’ Movie?

As soon as it premiered, it was gone

vera drew
send in the clowns

The Midnight Madness lineup at the Toronto International Film Festival — or TIFF, as girlies in the know know — has boasted some of the most lurid, exciting movie releases of the past few years. Palme d’Or winner Titane had its North American premiere in the late night slot, along with the visual stunner Color Out of Space a few years back and S. Craig Zahler’s brutal Brawl in Cell Block 99. This year’s slate boasted the Daniel Radcliffe/Weird Al biopic, sure, but more notably, Vera Drew’s Batman universe queer coming-of-age film The People’s Joker, which premiered on September 13th and then was unexpectedly pulled from the festival.

In an age in which basically anyone can and has tweeted “I am going to become the Joker,” Drew’s film looks at the Joker as less of one clown, and more as a societal monolith and a vehicle through which one clown in the DC universe can come to understand her gender and sexuality. The People’s Joker is a crowd-sourced indie film, starring its director (who also wrote it), and featuring comedian Tim Heidecker, with whom Drew has worked for a number of years. By all means, it’s a promising take on an over-told story in a superhero-rich culture with little to say and even less to show for itself.

Warner Bros., stressed about losing all of those episodes of Camping and whatever the hell is going on with Don’t Worry Darling, reportedly wasn’t thrilled about their IP being used so willy-nilly, however, and apparently sent Drew a cease and desist. Not very Joker of them, if we’re being honest. TIFF bowed to the pressure — they’re Canadians, remember — but Drew has promised the film will be seen, somehow and sometime soon.

It’s hard to believe that WB is genuinely threatened by the success and proliferation of their characters. The studio’s threats surrounding the distribution of The People’s Joker amounts to little more than flexing. If any of the recent edgelord Joker directors (The Hangover’s Todd Phillips or Suicide Squad’s David Ayer, for instance) wanted to come to the defense of a promising trans filmmaker with a wholly original vision, that would be a better use of their time than courting Lady Gaga or making a Jason Stathem movie about beekeeping (okay). But if one thing is for sure, it’s that the Joker ethos has permeated every aspect of society, and if the Joker wants something done, it’ll happen.