A long-time exploration of Rainbow Rowell’s racist caricatures forced onto characters (most notably, Eleanor & Park), commented on by various and sundry TikTokers, bloggers, journalists, and book reviewers have recently come back into the spotlight and were brought to my attention again around the same time Fire Island premiered on Hulu this year.
While we have had many Asian stereotypes, sidekicks, and other such representatives in stories for a while, there are very few Asian-led films, TV shows, comics, or books in the United States. Luckily, the popularity of such books and film adaptations as Crazy Rich Asians, To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, romantic comedies like Always Be My Maybe, and shows like Kim’s Convenience have provided us a tiny smidgen of Asian representation through the eyes of Asian creators, but we still have a long way to go when it comes to seeing stories about queer Asians. Hence, my excitement at hearing about the Jane Austen-inspired Fire Island.
Joel Kim Booster wrote and starred in the adaptation of Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice, and as a longtime fan of Austen, I have to say, I absolutely adored this take on the enemies-to-lovers critique of societal expectations and class prejudice. With Bowen Yang, Margaret Cho, and Conrad Ricamora, Fire Island is a sweet-edged satire about family, romance, money, and of course, pride and prejudice.
Booster is the Elizabeth Bennet of the group, determined to find a man for his friend Howie (played by Bowen Yang of SNL fame), who is the Jane Bennet of this story. Their other three friends play the parts of Mary, Kitty, and Lydia, prone to ridiculous displays, and Margaret Cho is Mrs. Bennet, always worried about finances and her brood of young gay men that she has nominally adopted. With no way to keep their house, and proud upper-class snobs inviting them to parties only to laugh at them, shenanigans are bound to ensue.
Fire Island might look like a light, comedic romance, just as Pride and Prejudice did, but similar issues are discussed in both works: classism, poverty, acceptance, true love vs societal expectations, to which Fire Island adds racism, the topic of consent, and LGBTQIA+ divides. The basic storyline does an excellent job of following Austen’s material, while also providing us with more food for thought in its own right, particularly when the conversation flows between Noah and Will (based on Mr. Darcy), and Noah and Howie.
There are plenty of reasons I enjoyed Fire Island, but the main three come down to queer representation in the Asian community (of which we see very little in popular culture in a positive light – a large portion of what I’ve seen online is simply fetishization or, in Rainbow Rowell’s case, racism), the discussion surrounding enthusiastic, ongoing consent (which is very common in kink circles but not as common elsewhere in my experience), and the fact that this is not a tragic gay romance, of which we have seen too many. There are so many joy-filled moments between friends, lovers, and chosen family. The film was filled to the brim with different kinds of happiness, from the contented happiness among friends, the glee of a vacation escape, the excitement of party-going, and the quiet, peaceful joy of experiencing nature.
Right now, a lot of us are going through something – being judged on who we are and how we look and the people we choose to love, fearing the future and the repercussions of bigots having so much control and power, and even the loss of family and friends to illness, police brutality, or senseless shootings that could have been prevented if people cared more about lives than easy access to ammunition. Movies like Fire Island give me hope that the entire world hasn’t become a complete shitshow. There are still people telling stories about love that overcomes obstacles. Love does win, in the end, and especially during Pride Month, I think that’s something worth remembering.
If you’d like to watch Fire Island, it is available on Hulu.