“It’s My Life, It Is Not a Batman Movie” (Exclusive)

    It’s been a long journey for Vera Drew’s The People’s Joker, “a queer coming-of-age Joker origin story” that is finally getting a theatrical release. Drew uses iconic DC characters to tell her personal story of coming out as trans, and the road to the film’s release has left movie and comic book fans curious. In 2022, the film had one screening at TIFF before it was pulled over “rights issues.” While some believed Drew received a cease and desist from Warner Bros., she has since set the record straight about how things unfolded between her and the studio, explaining why The People’s Joker should be protected under parody law. Naturally, the folks here at were interested in this unique undertaking considering the film’s connections to DC, but my interest goes much deeper than journalistic curiosity…

    I’ve been lucky to call Vera Drew my close friend for the last 15 years, being present during her early days as a film student in Chicago. Together, we pursued improv and stand-up, and supported each other during our initial attempts to find our creative voices. Eventually, I moved on to entertainment journalism while she became an Emmy-nominated editor working in Hollywood. Considering my position at and the upcoming release of The People’s Joker, talking to Drew about the film felt like a no-brainer. I’m deeply proud of what she has accomplished, and I feel lucky to get to share her words with our readers. You can watch our entire interview at the top of the page, and read some excerpts below… 

    Mixing Life and Art

    (Photo: Altered Innocence)

    During the interview, Drew talked about the experience of making something personal, and how she used The People’s Joker to “process my trauma not only with comedy, but with a relationship that I was in that was also very important to my trans identity, and my relationship to my mom, and also just my deep, genuine love of Batman.”

    “I never considered when starting that process that it would take me four years, but even without that amount of time … editing the movie was hard,” she explained. “I was editing scenes that were just conversations I had with my ex-fiance or my mom, but that’s why I did it. I mythologized my life. I made it this colorful, crazy way gayer-than-actual-reality [movie]. Even though the world the Joker/the Harlequin lives in is just as transphobic and horrible as ours, the world is oozing gayness that I think has softened it all, every step of the way.” 

    “I really do think filmmaking is kind of a mental illness on some level,” Drew added. “It’s something that you live with, and you learn to maintain, and be healthy within … And I don’t think I knew my limits when I started.”

    Setting The Record Straight

    (Photo: Altered Innocence)

    Drew also spoke about The People’s Joker getting pulled from TIFF, and while it’s a subject that comes up a lot, she’s glad to have the opportunity to “clarify” the situation.

    “We never got a cease and desist,” Drew explained. “We literally got an email from their legal department that just said, ‘We think this infringes on our brand, and we would like you to show this email to anybody that wants to buy the film or screen the film,’ which I did every step of the way.”

    Drew recalled being in Toronto with her co-writer Brie LeRose and The Penguin actor, Nate Faustyn, when the Warner Bros. email came through. “I don’t think any of us slept that 72-hour period. We were just chain smoking and going like, ‘What the f*ck is Discovery Channel going to do to us?'”

    Thankfully, Drew received many reassuring messages from friends, including comedian and actor, Tim Heidecker. He pointed out that she was getting a lot of great press thanks to TIFF. “It gave me a second just to go, ‘Okay, cool. It’s all going to be fine.’ This movie was never going to get this level of press if that thing didn’t happen,” Drew explained. 

    Another silver lining came from the movie’s unexpected TIFF drama. It made Drew realize the film needed more work. “I needed a second to climb out of my Joker cave, and look around and see what was happening.” Drew then pulled the film from other festivals and focused on secret screenings before taking it to more festivals the following year. Drew admits she was “intimidated by Warner Bros,” but joked that she probably shouldn’t say that now. 

    “I kind of always knew what I was doing had some risk involved with how it could be perceived, but I had gone a very long way to ensure that it was falling squarely under parody,” she explained.

    “I really do think The People’s Joker is protected by fair use if only because it is a Joker movie that only I could make,” Drew added. “It’s my life. It is not a Batman movie.” 

    Batman Forever‘s Influence:

    (Photo: Warner Bros.)

    While The People’s Joker is a movie only Drew could make, she is still a lover of Batman. When asked if she had a favorite comic book movie, Drew recalled seeing Batman Forever on the big screen with her dad when she was only six. Not only was it her first PG-13 movie in theaters, but it was also coming at a time when “content was very gatekept” in her house. Seeing the movie on the big screen ended up being a formative experience, and Joel Schumacher’s Batman films have since served as an inspiration to her.

    “I love both of his Batman movies so much just because they’re big, expensive, gay art films,” she shared.

    However, Drew wasn’t always quick to admit her love for Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. She confessed she spent some of her college years trying to appear “cool,” especially considering Christopher Nolan’s notoriously serious The Dark Knight trilogy was in its heyday. Now, she attributes coming as trans as part of the reason she was able to embrace her love for Schumacher.

    “I think the second I started putting estrogen in my body, I became way more cringe,” she said with a laugh. “Not suggesting there’s a correlation. I think it’s just once you start actually leaning into authenticity … you kind of let go of these things.” 

    Drew also recalled being greatly affected by Nicole Kidman in Batman Forever. “I don’t know what happened, but I felt represented by her on screen in this way,” Drew explained. “I do think that was probably a sexual awakening for a lot of people, but for me, it was less that and more just a gender experience … ‘Why do I want to look like this woman? Why do I want Batman to look at me the way he’s looking at her? Why do I feel represented by Dr. Chase Meridian when I’m a 6-year-old boy?'” 

    What’s Next For Vera Drew?

    (Photo: Altered Innocence)

    Now that The People’s Joker is finally getting its long-awaited release, Drew is thinking about her next projects. While she does want to “revisit” these characters one day, teasing a “People’s trilogy,” she also has some other exciting projects on the horizon. She revealed she is working on a trans body horror movie, which she says will be “pretty cool.” In addition to her original ideas, Drew would also be down to join some other franchises. 

    “I do love IP, though. If there are any franchises out there that would like to bring me in, in an official capacity, I definitely would consider it. I was actually thinking the other day, nobody’s capitalized on the Valley of the Dolls universe yet … If you want help rebooting that, I am your girl, because that’s another one that runs pretty deep and personal.”

    The People’s Joker is heading to Los Angeles, Austin, Texas, Denver, Colorado, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, and Washington, D.C. starting April 5th. You can find dates and showtimes here. 

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