The People’s Joker and Vera Drew are Ready for Their Villain Moment

After a few legal setbacks from Warner Bros., The People’s Joker has made its way to theaters this weekend in New York. The parody film sees director/writer Vera Drew as the Harlequin, a trans woman trying to make it in comedy after recently moving into a small town. With a number of other Batman villains also getting the parody treatment in the film, you can guess why WB would try to stomp it out—and why folks wanted it to get a fair shot at life.

For Drew, the film is deeply personal and practically autobiographical. As a trans woman, she felt a connection to the actual Joker movie in 2019. Along with Joaquin Phoenix’s outcast-turned-criminal Arthur Fleck, she found something relatable in the film being about “city structures and government systems [that] are completely failing. My family system failed me,” she told Variety. “My government is still failing me constantly, and for some reason, I still have to pay them taxes next month. I related to that core element of just wanting to make art and put myself out there. How can I do that in a system that is so rigidly gatekept and so much of it is just an arm of propaganda?”

Superheroes are “big, grand, bold, colorful archetypes,” and people already reflect themselves onto them. As a lifelong Batman fan, People’s Joker allowed Drew to tell her trans story, something she herself only really processed in 2019. In using comedy to explore some “false ideas” about herself, she eventually realized she “needed to process not only coming out as a trans woman in alternative comedy, but how this informed my identity.”

Drew was equally candid about the criticism that’s come her way over the last two years. There’ve been critiques—mainly from “well-intentioned allies”—asking if it’s a good time to have a queer villain headline a movie. As far as she’s concerned, she’s a villain already, so may as well accept it. “I’m villainized and politicized, and I’m turned into a symbol, just because of my identity,” she said. “Some people think that just because I was assigned a gender at birth that doesn’t match me, and then embraced that, I’m somehow a political activist or a symbol of their oppression. To me, I could only make a movie about a queer villain at this point in my life, because I’m completely villainized and my community is completely villainized. So it was important to me to do that.”

The People’s Joker is now in theaters, with more screenings opening up around the US in the coming weeks.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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