Alison Bechdel has responded to the online controversy surrounding Fire Island and its alleged failure of the Bechdel test.
On 6 June, writer and editor Hanna Rosin, who is in charge of podcasts at New York magazine, criticised the gay romantic comedy for its lack of female representation.
In a now-deleted tweet, she said the film would score an “F-” on the Bechdel test, the criteria used to measure representation of women in fictional media.
Popularised by Bechdel in a 1980s comic strip, a work must feature at least two named woman who engage in a conversation about something other than a man.
“Do we just ignore the drab lesbian stereotypes bc cute gay Asian boys?” Rosin wrote. “Is this revenge for all those years of the gay boy best friend?”
Rosin’s tweet was condemned online for failing to recognise Fire Island’s groundbreaking depiction of the LGBTQ+ Asian experience, with star Zane Phillips responding: “This is so unnecessary Hanna.”
Joel Kim Booster, star and writer of the gaycation comedy, returned to Twitter after a short hiatus and said he “picked a hilarious day to log back on”.
“I didn’t realize I was drab. I don’t identify as drab. Bitch I’m fab!” Margaret Cho also tweeted in response to Rosin’s description of her character in the film.
This is so unnecessary Hanna
— Zane Phillips (@zanityfair) June 7, 2022
I picked a hilarious day to log back on.
— Joel Kim Booster (@ihatejoelkim) June 7, 2022
I didn’t realize I was drab.
I don’t identify as drab.
Bitch I’m fab! ❤️ https://t.co/p8aBdmZywq
— Margaret Cho (@margaretcho) June 7, 2022
Following the controversy, Rosin deleted her tweet and issued an apology to those “who were hurt” by her words.
“I deleted a tweet that many of you rightly pointed out was offensive. I’ve read your responses and I hear you. My tweet was careless and thoughtless,” she said.
“Truly. The movie was telling a story about queer AAPI men, whose experiences don’t show up enough in movies or anywhere else. What I had to say was beside the point, not to mention a buzzkill on a fun summer movie.
“It’s a cliche but the fact that I didn’t see it coming means I have a lot to learn.”
Rosin concluded her tweet by saying “the last thing” she wants to do “is pit members of my community against each other”.
I deleted a tweet that many of you rightly pointed out was offensive. I’ve read your responses and I hear you. My tweet was careless and thoughtless. Truly. The movie was telling a story about queer AAPI men, whose experiences don’t show up enough in movies or anywhere else 1/3 pic.twitter.com/FEI0sDqXJe
— Hanna Rosin (@HannaRosin) June 7, 2022
The last thing I want to do is pit members of my community against each other. I sincerely apologize to those who were hurt by my words.
— Hanna Rosin (@HannaRosin) June 7, 2022
Hours after Rosin backpedaled on her comments, Bechdel entered the discourse and had her say on whether Fire Island passes the test.
“Okay, I just added a corollary: Two men talking to each other about the female protagonist of an Alice Munro story in a screenplay structured on a Jane Austen novel = pass. #FireIsland #BechdelTest,” she tweeted.
The corollary was later added to the Bechdel test’s Wikipedia entry, which Fire Island star Matt Rogers celebrated in an Instagram Story. The actor shared a screenshot of the page, which has now been deleted, with the caption: “The way this has all been worth it.”
Okay, I just added a corollary to the Bechdel test: Two men talking to each other about the female protagonist of an Alice Munro story in a screenplay structured on a Jane Austen novel = pass. #FireIsland #BechdelTest
— Alison Bechdel (@AlisonBechdel) June 8, 2022
Fire Island was released on 3 June to universal critical acclaim for its rejection of harmful queer tropes and its celebration and glorification of LGBTQ+ culture.
Inspired by Pride and Prejudice, the film follows two best friends (Booster and Bowen Yang) as they embark on their annual weeklong vacation to the titular gay hotspot.
In his cover interview for GAY TIMES, Booster said the film stemmed from his need to reassure queer people of their worth.
“I remember sitting, terrified as a 16-year-old like, ‘Oh my god, what kind of world is waiting for me out there as a gay person? Is there happiness out there for me?’” he explained.
“A big part of wanting to do this project was for me to say, ‘You will find your queer family, and through those people, you will have all of these wonderful experiences and create such an amazing tapestry of joy in your life.
“Not just “despite being gay”, but because you’re gay.’ That’s really what I wanted to get across with the movie.”
The comedian also revealed that a sequel – or a spiritual sequel with the same cast – is a possibility.
“Yeah, a real anthology series! While I don’t know that I necessarily feel all the way inspired to write another gay vacation movie at this time, I would definitely do anything to work with this cast again,” he teased.
“Maybe what will happen is I’ll do an And Just Like That… sort of style film in 20 years from now. We’ll all return to Fire Island and we’ll see where these characters are in 20 years.”
Fire Island, which is now available to stream in the UK on Disney Plus, also stars Conrad Ricamora, James Scully, Torian Miller, Tomás Matos and Nick Adams.