Pride month is here, and many of the gay-themed films and shows emerging during June and beyond show the growing breadth and depth of the LGBTQ+ community. And not all of the changes are represented in those rainbow stripes and colors.
For one thing, more and more such releases are getting mainstream exposure, either on streaming services or in theaters, thanks to the success of such shows as Hulu’s “Happiest Season” and Netflix’s “Heartstopper.” Another development is that some gay-themed shows and movies are aiming for greater ethnic diversity.
You can see that play out in Hulu’s frisky and fun rom-com “Fire Island,” a sassy gay take on Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” set on the famed Long Island hot spot, where a group of mostly Asian American pals go on vacation to party, hook up, and find camaraderie and even romance.
“Fire Island” stars and was written by Joel Kim Booster and was directed by Andrew Ahn, both out and proud gay Asian Americans. The film drops June 3 and also screens June 23 at the Castro as part of Frameline46 — the world’s largest LGBTQ+ film festival, running June 16-June 26.
Getting “Fire Island” made during the pandemic in time for a Pride release presented Ahn with a fierce challenge. The film was shot over six weeks last summer with strict COVID-19 protocols that could have shut down the production if even one castmate tested positive.
“We had to work hard to meet that deadline, but I’m really glad we would have this in time for Pride month,” Ahn said, adding he hopes “Fire Island” inspires others in the community “to go on trips with our friends.”
There’s also heightened representation in Peacock’s bold, New Orleans-set reboot of the iconic early aughts series “Queer as Folk.” Many of the main characters in this addictive redo are vibrant people of color, some whom are trans, non-binary and disabled, qualities that weren’t as commonplace in the two previous incarnations of the series.
The eight-episode program streams June 9 and sounds a timely theme in the wake of recent American mass shootings by depicting characters coping with trauma in the aftermath of a Pulse-like club massacre. The new “Queer as Folk” receives a world premiere June 3 as part of Los Angeles’ new OutFronts Festival. That lineup also includes a June 4 sneak peek of the third and final season of Hulu/Disney’s gay-themed hit series “Love, Victor” (adapted from the film “Love, Simon,” about a high school student’s coming out), which will be available to stream June 15. Two episodes of “Queer as Folk” will also screen June 17 at Frameline.
Want more LGBTQ+ entertainment? You’re in luck this month and beyond as many other LGBTQ+-themed stories get told with aspirations that they too could break out into a mainstream hit like Netflix’s coming-of-age rom-com “Heartstopper,” which connected with critics and audiences alike and has been renewed for a second and third seasons. Season 1 is available to stream now.
Additionally, there are high-brow indies hitting screens big and small, such as Terrence Davies’ excellent and heartbreaking drama “Benediction” (in select theaters June 3), not to mention Netflix’s lesbian vampire series “First Kill” (June 10), comedy specials and much more. notable in the fall will be comedian/actor/screenwriter Billy Eichner’s “Bros” (Sept. 30), the first gay rom-com from a major studio to feature an all-LGBTQ+ cast (even the actors who are playing the straight roles ).
For the talented duo behind “Fire Island,” which finds a group of gay friends tangling with a group of mostly white snotty, rich vacationers and includes one hot but uptight Mr. Darcy type (Conrad Ricamora), there was a desire to show fissures within the community and also to elevate people of color in front of and behind the camera.
“I’ll say there are have been many films made before about queer people of color (and) about queer joy,” said Ahn, who directed 2016’s award-wining “Spa Night” and 2019’s “Driveways.” “It’s just that they haven’t gotten the platform that they deserve and I think the American studio system is really impenetrable to many people. It’s really privileging straight white actors who can greenlight these movies. It’s a sign of the times that a film like ‘Fire Island’ got made and I think it’s significant that our three lead executives at Searchlight were two Asian American women and and one gay Latinx man.”
But the road to getting the comedy made was a bumpy one. The idea came about after a 2016 Fire Island trip Booster took with his bestie Bowen Yang, of “Saturday Night Live” fame. Booster read Austen’s beloved 1813 novel “Pride and Prejudice” and was struck by the relevance of the author’s “observations about class and the ways we create class and the ways people communicate across the class lines. It just felt so prescient and especially at Fire Island, where the artificial class system that gay men have created for themselves has been laid bare and is so oppressive.”
Booster joked about making a gay “Pride and Prejudice,” and the idea stuck. He shopped it around as a TV idea and received zero interest. He went to Quibi and the streaming platform went for it. Then Quibi died.
Later a “perfect storm” occurred, Booster recalls: Yang, who was attached to the film, saw his career take off and Hulu found a big streaming hit on its hands with “Happiest Season,” a yuletide lesbian romance starring Kristen Stewart.
“I think they were just primed and ready to say, ‘Oh I guess there is an appetite for gay romance and romcoms.’ So I got really lucky in the moment that we were trying to sell it.”
Booster’s seeing his career take off, too. In addition to “Fire Island,” he’s one of the featured comedians in “Stand Out: An LGBTQ+ Celebration” (June 9 on Netflix) and he has a comedy special “Joel Kim Booster: Psychosexual” hitting Netflix on June 21. It was filmed at Catch One in Los Angeles.
But even with all these releases, there’s concern about what’s happening right now with book bans sweeping through some states and actions targeting gay content such as the “Don’t Say Gay” Florida legislation, as well as attacks on the trans community and murmurs of concern over the resiliency of gay marriage in the wake of the leaked Supreme Court document on Roe v Wade.
Coming together can be powerful during these volatile times.
That’s where film festivals such as Frameline comes in with its expanded in-person screenings from last year.
“I think what Frameline does best is that it celebrates the entire community and by that I mean we play films that are gay and lesbian and bi and trans from every part of the country, from every part of the world,” said Frameline executive director James Wooley. “It’s an opportunity to really have a status check … . What Frameline does reflect is our community’s response and how we thrive and where we have challenges.”
On an upbeat note, Frameline’s Youth in Motion school program created in 2008 — wherein a free LGBTQ+-themed film gets sent to schools in 50 states and shown to more than 30,000 students — has proved a big success. The 2021-22 film was the high-school trans athlete documentary “Changing the Game.”
“We’re getting increased sign-ups,” Woolley adds. “We want to put more investment into that. We are really thrilled to be putting this work out in the world.”