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From wowing millions as part of the infamous YouTube hit The Try Guys to his one-of-a-kind coming out video back in 2020, Eugene Lee Yang has become a firm staple in many LGBTQ+ people’s lives. We sat down with the internet sensation to discuss the LGBTQ+ movement in America, his future directorial debut and arguably his biggest project yet starring alongside Riz Ahmed and Chloë Grace Moretz.

With LGBTQ+ content on Netflix increasing by the month, their new graphic offering is set to cause a stir – with 1.7 million people already having watched the official teaser that dropped back in May. After a stop-start production, Nimona – the futuristic mediaeval graphic novel created by ND Stevenson – is officially ready for release with the streaming giant, landing on 30 June. Promising storylines we haven’t yet seen in ND Stevenson’s graphic novel or webcomic, the picture follows the titular character, a young shapeshifter with a penchant for villainous extra curricular activities. 

With a stacked cast including Riz Ahemd as Lord Ballister Blackheart, a villain with a vendetta, and Chloë Grace Moretz as Nimona, Eugune Lee Yang finishes this trifecta as Ambrosius Goldenloin, a major queer character in the medieval universe. 

“I’ll tell you that is his real name, and I believe the pun was very much intended!” Eugene tells us. “That’s all thanks to ND Stevenson, who originally created the character: he had such a brilliant, irreverent vision for this hyper-gallant, competitive champion who finds himself torn between his duty and his feelings.”

“It’s established right from the jump that Goldenloin and Blackheart are essentially a couple, so when tasked with hunting down the man that he loves, there’s a deeply personal sense of pain and betrayal that fuels his motivation. I resonated a lot with my character having to behave in an upstanding, tough way in particular settings: his colleagues at his work, and especially with the Director, who’s a parental figure to him. Then you see him when he’s around Blackheart: he’s caring, soft, and most importantly, he’s honest. I connected immediately with his duality, and I think many queer viewers will, too.”

Directed by Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, this animated queer epic will hope to claim its rightful place within the streaming giant’s LGBTQ+ programming after a tricky period of cancellations for the platform. With fan favourites such as First Kill and Half Bad: The Bastard Son & The Devil Himself being cut in their prime, Nimona looks to stand the test of time with its diverse cast and powerful fanbase. 

“Chloe brings such a devious, chaotic vivacity to Nimona, and I personally love that my and Riz’s portrayals make this an AAPI-led queer romance” continues Eugene. “I’d also like to shower praise on the directors, Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, who handled every performance with great intentionality and thoughtfulness for the LGBTQ+ community. They always encouraged me to bring as much of my own background – which inherently includes my distinct queerness – to the role, and to have project leaders understand how important that was to this story was such a rare privilege.”

Since his incredibly low-key coming out video ‘I’m Gay – Eugene Lee Yang’ was shared in 2020, the digital innovator has been an inspiration for many from the Asian-American community as he continues to authentically share his experiences online. Times have changed and a whole new era of queer content creators have been born, especially since the rise of TikTok, with household names such as Dylan Mulvaney, Tyler Oakley and Nikkie Tutorials. As one of the original YouTube hits, Eugene reflects on being LGBTQ+ and online.

“I think that one of the major positives of the history of digital platforms is that queer people have always found ways to carve out their own creative spaces and communities, even when corporations and studios failed to recognize the value in those voices. Hell, even Nimona was first published as a webcomic! So I don’t think the act of sharing LGBTQ+ stories is necessarily the issue, and I strongly believe the appetite was always there – the challenge is that there continues to be gatekeepers who see us as controversial as opposed to conversational. But that’s par for the course – queerness remains to be, in and of itself, a protest, and that includes entertainment and media.”

What this astute observation relays is that protest and taking up space as queer people can manifest itself in a myriad of ways – not just through traditional protest or occupying physical space. Through the creative work that LGBTQ+ people produce on streaming sites, cinema, TV, literature and graphic novels, to independent cinema or sharing our own lives across social media, our ability to protest and be seen and heard has shifted. Just as the fight has become more potent, so has our ability to connect and unite against the current struggles our LGBTQ+ siblings face.

According to Trans Legislation Tracker, 85 anti-trans bills have been passed out of the 556 proposed across the United States since January, fuelling a social and political climate of transphobia that has a new frequency. With consistent attacks from all angles, including a vicious hate campaign directed at TikTok star and theatre performer Dylan Mulvaney after she worked on a promotional video with Bud Light that swept conservatives into hysterics, LGBTQ+ people with a platform are finding themselves constantly speaking out against the rise in prejudice across the country. With a strong platform that is unapologetically queer, Eugene shared his upset at the current state of affairs in the US. 

“On an emotional level, it’s heart-wrenching and infuriating , most especially with the heightened targeting of trans people. These are my friends’ livelihoods at stake. These are young queer and questioning people who are being discussed as if they were less than human. Frankly, it pisses me off, and it should piss all of us off, On a political level, it’s the same transparent bullshit the far-right has always deployed when they want to rile up their base: scapegoat a singular issue or group. Galvanise voters against the “other.” These days, there’s something very sinister about how flagrantly they’re [conservatives] going after LGBTQ+ rights – I believe it’s because we have never had this loud of a voice on the sociopolitical stage, and so they’re growing desperate. I’m optimistic about how we can combat their hatred, particularly through our activism and visibility, but the top prerogative for me is that protections for trans and gender-nonconforming individuals must be established.”

But like many, his ability to continue to create provocative and proud work continues. The fight that many LGBTQ+ people hold within them fuels their creative output – and in this case his first feature film directorial debut is the result. Unable to divulge too much, Eugene shares why the world of directing is the place he has found a sense of home, and more about his own foray into the world of fiction.

“I’m excited to have been seriously focusing on my directorial work, where I can contribute my perspective to a longstanding tradition of radical queer cinema. I can’t publicly announce much about that project yet, but I’m equally thrilled to have been writing my fiction duology, The Unders, which is my unique vision of an epic fantasy world. Nimona was such a serendipitous alignment for me because of my adoration for genre storytelling. What’s wonderful about the world of publishing is that I’m committing dreams I’ve had, ever since I was a child, to page, and I can promise you that it’s chock full of wild, imaginative adventure and unapologetically, gloriously queer.”

With the media landscape becoming more and more known for groundbreaking queer cinema that revolves around sex, drugs and jumping into lakes naked (tell me one queer film where this doesn’t happen) – there’s something refreshing and comforting about speaking with Eugene and hearing about how engaging and important his work feels. It speaks to a subsection of the community that found its people through fantasy. More and more of us are looking for escape from the realities of everyday life, especially as LGBTQ+ people – and the worlds that appear to be on the horizon in Nimona and his own personal projects fill us with optimism. 

As a final word, Eugene shares with us what the next generation of queer creatives should be focusing on within themselves. “Never devalue your own experiences. I’ve been extremely guilty of that – underselling and dismissing my own ideas and self-worth because others instructed to me to be more mainstream. You’re going to face a million people telling you ‘no’, but when you finally get a ‘yes’, every one of those stories stored away in the recesses of your mind will contribute to what you write. The best way to channel them later is to honour them, to the best of your ability, as they occur to you.”

Nimona premieres on 30 June on Netflix.