Fire Island: Finding the intersections between queer and Asian American culture

Cold Tea sits down with Fire Island movie director Andrew Ahn to talk about the project and fostering community through it.

Creating queer, Asian representation through film

To boil down Fire Island to just a rom-com movie feels wrong. It is an amalgamation of contemporary queer culture. A showcase of Asian Americans that dismantles the monolith. And, the film just so happens to be one of director Andrew Ahn’s most challenging projects yet.

Set on the idyllic Fire Island, this movie utilizes classic comedic elements to showcase the diverse breadth of romance across the queer community. Drawing much of its inspiration from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the story centers around best friends Noah (Joel Kim Booster) and Howie (Bowen Yang). With the help of cheap wine and eclectic friends, the duo sets out to have a legendary week they’ll never forget.

The film marks Ahn’s most ambitious project to date. Ahn’s first two feature films — Spa Night and Driveways — are two independent and intimate, dramatic movies. By comparison, Fire Island is distributed by Spotlight Pictures, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, and is funny and light-hearted.

Cold Tea Collective sat down with him to discuss the film, representation, creativity, and fostering a sense of community.

Ahn enumerated some of these differences, though also maintained how fulfilling it is to tackle something of this magnitude.

“Fire Island was the first time I was tackling a comedy that I had more resources. It was different on many levels, but I was really excited for that challenge,” he explained. “I really want to have a fun and varied career, and explore different genres — work with different collaborators because I think that makes for a fulfilling journey as a filmmaker.”

Uplifting marginalized communities

Matt Rogers, Bowen Yang and Tomas Matos Photo by Jeong Park. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

What makes this film so special is its dedication to uplifting marginalized communities. In a world where white, cis-, hetero rom-coms are in abundance, Fire Island stands out through its exploration of queer and Asian American experiences, and the intersections thereof.

Ahn acknowledged that trying to tell the story of the entire queer Asian American community would be “a fool’s errand.” Instead, he presented a friendship, injected with such a palpable sense of humanity.

“Even if it isn’t necessarily the exact experience of folks watching, it would resonate with them on an emotional level,” he said.

Accentuating this sentiment is where Ahn’s film shine the brightest.

“I love that this film centers around two queer Asian American friends. That these friends are actually super different from each other. They have different relationships to love and sex. They look different. They have different baggage,” he said. “All of these differences show the diversity of our community — that we’re not a monolith.”

Responding to the haters of Fire Island

To Ahn, trying to cater a project in anticipation of how it could be perceived negatively affects his creative process.

Creating a film like Fire Island understandably had a couple of hindrances. Ahn admitted that movies like this are “going to have straight up homophobes who are just saying online that [it] shouldn’t exist.”

His response to all of this ignorant reception though? Ignore the noise in pursuit of the narrative.

Andrew Ahn on the set of the film Fire Island. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

“I really tried to throw the distractions out the window. I was just trying to focus on making a great film, telling a great story, and creating a great environment where people feel safe and happy and inspired to make great work.” 

Tough as it may be as a creative, Ahn said that dwelling on those things erodes you as a human and as an artist.

‘Find and work with each other’

A still from the film Fire Island. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.

Ahn’s ultimately wants to advocate for his community. The film industry is historically troubled. But creatives like Ahn are leading the way in empowering the future generations of queer and Asian American filmmakers to unabashedly speak their truths.

“There’s so much bigotry just built into how things are made. It’s really important for us to find and work with each other, find community, support other artists whose work we really love. It’s because I think it’s that sense of community that makes us realize, ‘Oh, we’re not in this alone, we can do this together — that we are a powerful community.’ And, I think it’s with that collective energy that we’ll be able to create true representational equality.”

The film carries all the classic tropes of rom-coms we’ve grown to love. Plus more. It will evoke laughter, and tears, and even the occasional, “Did he just say what I think he just said?” Above all of that though, it tells a story that authentically feels as if it’s from our community.

Catch Fire Island streaming starting June 3 on Hulu.

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