Every year, there are new firsts for LGBTQ+ stories being told in film and on television, from Firebird to Heartstopper. Of course, this is a good thing—that we’re finally seeing authentic and diverse representation throughout popular culture. But it’s also tinged with sadness—because should we still be waiting for such basic cultural representation? This summer sees the release of two major LGBTQ+ films (with an emphasis on the G), Fire Island and Bros.
Fire Island is a romantic comedy set on the eponymous resort, an infamous gay escape destination off the southern shore of Long Island, about a ninety-minute drive from Manhattan. It’s the first major movie to centre queer Asian American friendship—with a predominantly queer cast and crew.
Written by and starring stand-up comedian and actor Joel Kim Booster, the cast includes SNL’s Bowen Yang and legendary comedian Margaret Cho. The story is inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which Booster had read one summer while visiting Long Island; he plays Noah, the Elizabeth Bennett of the group. “I really wanted to show people that there is joy in the experience of being gay,” he told GAY TIMES. The plot centres on a group of friends who head to Fire Island Pines for an annual summer getaway, “but when a sudden change of events jeopardises their summer in gay paradise, their bonds as a chosen family are pushed to the limit,” states the studio synopsis.
The movie is a love letter not just to the gay community but to the queer Asian American experience specifically. Booster wanted to reject the stereotypes of the Asian LGBTQ+ experience. “There’s usually only one of us in a movie, right?” he said. “So, we’re only seeing one specific story. I just wanted to feel like you’re getting so many different versions of a queer experience. I want people to realise that we’re more than just the token Asian friend. We are the story. I want people to understand that and feel empowered by that.”
Andrew Ahn directs, whose previous feature credits include Spa Night and Driveways. “For this film, I wanted to have fun,” he explained, “I wanted to laugh, I wanted to give the audience something to feel good about themselves. I think it’s really valuable to have dramatic queer films that are darker and tackle subjects that are difficult. I think that there’s a time and place for that.”
Coincidentally, a creative history of Fire Island is also published this month: Fire Island: Love, Loss and Liberation in an American Paradise by Jack Parlett, for anyone unfamiliar with the history and significance of the island within queer history. “A beautiful, beguiling journey to the ultimate queer utopia,” noted celebrated cultural critic and writer Olivia Laing.
Later this year, a second big gay romcom is due: Bros, starring Billy Eichner, from a screenplay by Eichner and director Nicholas Stoller. It’s set to be the first gay romantic comedy from a major studio featuring an entirely LGBTQ+ principal cast: Luke Macfarlane, Bowen Yang (again), Ts Madison, and Guillermo Díaz, with minor roles for Harvey Fierstein and champion of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 13, Symone.
Eichner plays Bobby Leiber, a podcaster who is invited to write a gay Hollywood romantic comedy—while dealing with dating apps, specifically Grindr, and his chosen family. Produced by Judd Apatow for Universal Pictures, Eichner becomes the first openly gay man to co-write and star in his own major studio film.
Speaking to GAY TIMES, he explained, “I realised that we are just so hungry as LGBTQ+ people, as gay men, to see accurate, multi-dimensional and genuinely funny and genuinely smart depictions of ourselves that we don’t get.” Too many mainstream gay stories focus on either coming out or doomed romances—surely there’s space for comedy as well as tragedy?
Like Fire Island, Bros hopes to reject stereotypes and embrace authentic, lived experience—using comedy to do so. Eichner has described his characters as “funny, sad, lonely, extremely confident, messy, brave horny and hypocritical adult human beings.” Many of the jokes, even in the trailer, will no doubt be lost on a straight audience. And that’s okay.
Will this be a watershed moment for queer representation onscreen? Or do such hopes rely on the financial and critical success of these movies? Only time will tell. Let’s hope this is the start of a new era for authentic LGBTQ+ storytelling.
Fire Island is set to be released on Hulu in the US and Disney+ via Star on 3 June 2022. Bros is scheduled to be released in the US on 30 September 2022; international distribution has not yet been confirmed.