Not just for ‘rich, white, jacked gay men’: Stars of ‘Fire Island’ on body positivity for Asians and LGBTQ
By Khier Casino
June 17, 2022
Fire Island is a place where “rich, white, jacked gay men” travel to for vacation, but the cast of the new Hulu film of the same name say there is more to it than that.
“Fire Island” is a romantic comedy that follows a group of gay men who spend a week-long trip at the queer hotspot off the coast of Long Island, New York. Director Andrew Ahn says he was grateful to have a majority-Asian American cast in Joel Kim Booster, Bowen Yang, Margaret Cho and Conrad Ricamora, who all sat down with NextShark for an interview.
The movie was inspired by Booster’s experience going to the island for the first time in 2016. Booster, who also wrote the screenplay, was reading “Pride and Prejudice” at the time and found Jane Austen’s insight relevant to what he was experiencing.
“I thought that it was just a place for rich, white, jacked gay men to go,” Ricamora says. “Then when we shot there, it completely changed my perception. Yes, there is that, but there’s also space for people of color, all body types.”
Directing “Fire Island” with an outsider’s perspective helped Ahn recognize that the characters don’t feel like they belong in every space. But Booster’s ultimate message that “we belong where we want to and with each other” really resonated with the director.
“To see two characters, Noah and Howie, who have different relationships to their own bodies, is exciting to see because the film shows that the queer Asian American experience isn’t a monolith,” says Ahn, who has previously directed “Spa Night” (2016) and “Driveways” (2019). “We can still find community, create close relationships, which to me is really groundbreaking.”
In “Fire Island,” the character Keegan (played by Tomás Matos) mentions the “no fats, no femmes, no Asians” slogan that’s often used by users on gay social apps.
Yang, who plays Noah’s best friend Howie, explains how that type of oppressive language is hurled around in the gay community. But there are people within the Asian queer community who completely reject that notion, which is reflected in the film’s two male leads.
“You have these characters who do consider themselves with some self-worth, even though their culture has told them there’s generally no place for them,” Yang says.
Meanwhile, Ricamora emphasizes that “Fire Island” didn’t intend to create a public service announcement.
“The film doesn’t fight it, it just allows all of us, every single character, to exist in a three-dimensional way and not caricatures of a human being,” the actor says, calling attention to a few organizations that are at the forefront of making change for queer people of color — including the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA), Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and Equality California.
Booster, who has been doing standup comedy for 11 years, started seeing that slogan when he downloaded Grindr for the first time in 2011. He points out that it’s less socially acceptable to be as boldly racist today, but it took a long time for him to really separate himself from that kind of messaging.
“Noah’s journey in the film is someone who has already gotten beyond that and has left it behind, and Howie is still very much in the muck of that mindset and being affected by that,” Booster says. “It’s great to see these two people at these two separate points in this journey that a lot of us take in getting self-acceptance and self-love.”
The actor recalls how self-acceptance was not easy for him, and he had to work very hard to start feeling good about himself. For years, Booster wanted to look like how he looks now — ripped and muscular with washboard abs — but it felt unattainable. He woke up unhappy everyday.
“It was a long process of me being happy with who I was and how I looked and accepting that,” Booster says with confidence. “When I started going to the gym, not for someone else’s desire, and just for myself, that’s when things really changed for me.”
Cho, who has been vocal for years about body positivity and loving and having control of your own body, says this is an area where the Asian American and queer communities struggle.
“It’s a really difficult thing because this is where our homophobia becomes internalized, our racism becomes internalized, our sexism becomes internalized,” the comedian continues. “It’s messages and things from our families to our history that just get repeated. It’s something that we really have to free ourselves from because it’s a real burden that we don’t need to bear. It takes away from our ability to fight what’s really wrong in society.
“When you’re fighting with yourself about your own body image and how we appear, then we’re not looking to fight the anti-Asian hate crimes, we’re not looking to fight the rampant homophobia that exists out there in these anti-trans laws, anti-gay laws and the overturning of Roe v. Wade.”
Watch NextShark’s full interviews with the cast below.
Images via Searchlight Pictures
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