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Throughout history, there has been no shortage of Batman adaptations: movies, TV shows, animated series. Caped Crusaders, and the villains who irk them, fill screens every year. It’s overkill. But this week, a new kind of Batman movie premiered, and although it might be one of the best Bat-takes in years, you may never get the chance to see it.
On Sept 13, The People’s Joker made its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Billed as “an illegal comic book movie,” the film turns the story of one of Bat’s most notorious villains into a trans coming-of-age tale. Following its midnight screening, however, the movie was pulled from the TIFF lineup over “rights issues.” One of the most exciting, queer Batman-adjacent stories to come out in years is now a disappearing act.
What, exactly, happened remains a bit unclear. Warner Bros. Discovery, which owns the rights to DC Comics, has yet to respond to WIRED’s request for comment, but Variety reported Wednesday that “it appears the studio may have issued a cease-and-desist to block the movie’s three further screenings at TIFF.” On Thursday, Vera Drew, the film’s writer/director/star, posted a statement to Twitter saying she received an “angry letter” (not a cease-and-desist) and adding that after getting the letter she told TIFF about it and they “agreed to premiere as planned while scaling back our later screenings to mitigate potential blowback.” She also noted the film was seeking a distribution partner and would screen at other festivals soon.
“I don’t respond well to bullying or pressure from faceless institutions. It only emboldens me and what I was saying with this film,” she told Variety. “We’re looking for buyers and distribution partners who will protect us and make this film accessible to trans people and their families everywhere.”
In that, Drew has a point, and not just because she wants her film to end up somewhere besides the trash. Although it is not inherently fanfiction, a movie like The People’s Joker does what a lot of fanfic accomplishes: inserts people—and/or their lived experiences or aspirations—into narratives where they otherwise don’t exist. Drew has said the film is a reflection of her own transition and mental health struggles, and while the film—a DIY hodgepodge of green-screen acting, 8-bit animated scenes, and homemade sets—would never be confused with anything in the DCEU, it is an expression of what it’s like when you’re queer and trying to see yourself in that franchise.