Shocking Twist! Iconic Villain in ‘The People’s Joker’ Unveils Bold Trans Expression!

Viewers of Vera Drew’s quirky new film, “The People’s Joker,” are welcomed with an initial disclaimer explaining that the film is not designed to violate any known copyrights. The film’s logo later emphasizes this by branding Drew’s innovative portrayal of everyone’s beloved Batman antagonist as “a fair-use comic-book parody/trans autofiction.” Much like Drew’s fictional character, an aspiring comedian-turned-villain residing in Gotham City, the brilliance of this DIY venture lies in the combination of two elements (whether gender or genre) to create something new and breathtaking.

Drew, who co-wrote the script (with Bri LeRose), directed, edited, and starred in “The People’s Joker,” evidently borrows from the solemn superhero origin story genre. This genre was epitomized by Todd Phillips’ 2019 portrayal of Batman’s jesting adversary. There’s a perspective that views Drew’s interpretation of this “Joker the Harlequin” as a playful rebuke to such grim portrayals of a character whose first live-action version was in the campy hands of Cesar Romero. The film frequently jests, “Why so self-serious?”

Drew’s Joker is first introduced backstage, awaiting her turn on a comedy show, a scene reminiscent of Joaquin Phoenix’s Academy Award-winning performance. She’s seen wearing Phoenix’s now iconic red clown suit, similar makeup, and appears equally apprehensive about her impending performance.

However, Drew quickly differentiates her project from the other Joker, indicating her intent to alter such a comparison. In this rendition, her Joker is a trans girl dealing with childhood trauma and unaddressed gender identity issues. She’s driven to pursue a career in comedy, which in this world is only permitted at the “UCB Live” show, an “SNL” parody overseen by Batman (a portly animated character voiced by Phil Braun) and managed by Lorne Michaels (a CGI character resembling Sim and voiced by Maria Bamford).

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So, this Joker is fighting against comedy, or rather the comedy that is permitted to be shown to mainstream audiences. The “anti-comedy” group she forms with her friend Penguin (Nathan Faustyn) eerily resembles a collection of well-known Gotham residents, including a cunning cat burglar, a muscle man with a mouthguard, and a plant-human hybrid covered in ivy.

Drew doesn’t shy away from challenging the harmful notion that women, trans individuals, and all minorities – including zoomers as a whole – have destroyed comedy. Therefore, in this unique version of Gotham City, her Joker discovers her own villain origin story in her ambition to infiltrate a male-dominated comedy scene.

As she refines her routine (and her fashion sense, drawing inspiration from various iconic Joker styles over the years), Drew’s main character falls head over heels for “Mr. J” (Kane Distler), a trans stand-up comedian whose green slicked-back hair, white face paint, and “damaged” forehead tattoo don’t deter her. Instead, she becomes captivated by Mr. J, whose past with their mutual Bat-antagonist turns this T4T romance into something far more complex than one might expect.

In essence, this is a wildly imaginative reinterpretation of one of the most renowned comic book characters of all time. However, thanks to the raw vulnerability that comes from Drew reflecting on her own experiences, she has managed to create a film that works just as well as a trans coming-of-age story, a thoughtful exploration of toxic relationships, and a visually stunning reminder of the queer art of camp appropriation. In her hands, this handcrafted film, with its rough animations and digitally painted backdrops, lends a homemade, textured feel to decades of Joker and Batman portrayals, illustrating how pop culture can be utilized as a tool for self-expression.

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Drew’s early inspiration was “Batman Forever.” Joel Schumacher’s neon-colored, rave-like Gotham City was where the Chicago-born filmmaker first made connections between her own unruly desires and the characters on screen. “The People’s Joker” is an audacious guerrilla-style attempt to reintegrate Schumacher’s queer sensibility into the superhero genre, evolving his film into a rather intense personal drama.

Being both daring and ambitious, Drew’s film is dedicated to embracing the wacky undertones that have always been inherent in comic book stories where secret identities, exaggerated performances, and extravagant outfits (all donned under the cover of night) have always served as lifelines for queer and trans kids around the globe.

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