— Altered Innocence

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: a gay clown dives into a vat of feminizing hormones at a chemical storage plant, then goes on to create an illegal comedy troupe in Gotham City. What sounds like a remix of the origins of Harley Quinn is actually the premise for an unofficial Joker parody. It’s called The People’s Joker, and though very few have seen the film, it will soon score a limited theatrical screening.

The story behind The People’s Joker is already infamous. What began as an unofficial dare to re-edit Todd Phillip’s Joker eventually sired a queer coming-of-age parody from Vera Drew. The Emmy-nominated editor and director also stars as the Harlequin, a clown on a quest to explore her identity as a trans woman while fighting Gotham City’s staunch rules against comedy (in this universe, Batman has outlawed the practice).

The People’s Joker premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival, but was pulled from subsequent screenings after Drew was pressured by an “angry letter” from a “media conglomerate that shall remain nameless.”

“I went to great lengths with legal counsel to have it fall under parody/fair use,” Drew wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. Still, its use of images from previous DC films might have caught negative attention from Warner Bros., so to avoid “potential blowback,” Drew voluntarily canceled future screenings. The filmmaker has been searching for a distribution method ever since, and has finally found a backer in Altered Innocence.

The independent distributor will screen The People’s Joker for one week at New York’s IFC Center in 2024. The film’s run starts on April 5, with the possibility of additional screenings in the future. It’s just one step towards securing a wider release for the film, but it’s a promising development for Drew, and for any filmmaker hoping to color outside the lines of established intellectual property.

“I am absolutely thrilled and humbled that Altered Innocence is helping me bring The People’s Joker to theaters this spring,” said Drew. “It has been a long road freeing The People’s Joker and finding a release plan that rings true to the queer, anarchist spirit we had while making it. What better home than among Altered Innocence’s catalog of gorgeously gay and deliciously edgy films.”

The People’s Joker premieres on April 5, 2024.

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