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Alison Bechdel Officially Gives ‘Fire Island’ a Pass Amid Failed Bechdel Test Furor

Twitter erupted after a NYMag podcaster condemned the queer summer hit for lacking female representation. Now, the cartoonist behind the Bechdel Test has given the last word.

Bowen Yang, Tomas Matos, Matt Rogers, Torian Miller, Joel Kim Booster and Margaret Cho in the film FIRE ISLAND. Photo by Jeong Park. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures. © 2022 20th Century Studios All Rights Reserved

“Fire Island”

Hulu

Fire Island” ignited a viral Twitter debate on June 7 over gender representation, but now the Bechdel Test creator herself, Alison Bechdel, has issued the last word.

The conversation began after New York Magazine podcaster Hannah Rosin tweeted, “So Fire Island gets an F- on the Bechdel test in a whole new way,” citing the lack of female characters in the queer AAPI reimagining of Jane Austen’s “Pride & Prejudice,” aside from Margaret Cho’s mother hen onscreen persona.

The Bechdel Test is formally “a set of criteria used as a test to evaluate a work of fiction, such as a film, on the basis of its inclusion and representation of female characters.” The criteria tested is that a film must include at least two women, they must interact with each other, and their conversation must be about something other than a man. It originated, however, as a joke in Bechdel’s 1985 comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and there is some debate about how seriously Bechdel intended it to be applied to discussions of all media.

Rosin continued in the since-deleted post, “Do we just ignore the drab lesbian stereotypes bc cute gay Asian boys? Is this revenge for all those years of the gay boy best friend?”

Cartoonist and Bechdel Test founder Alison Bechdel ultimately responded in a separate post, writing, “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.”

The Bechdel Test measures gender inequality in films, and “Fire Island,” written by and starring Joel Kim Booster, centers on gay men in the Fire Island Pines hamlet during a week of summer festivities. Cho is the only onscreen woman and all of her dialogue is directly about the male main characters, played by Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamora, James Scully, and Matt Rogers, among others.

Cho herself responded to the tweet, writing, “I didn’t realize I was drab. I don’t identify as drab. Bitch I’m fab!”

“Fire Island” star Yang posted an Instagram pic alongside former adult film actor Robin Byrd with the caption: “F- on the Bechdel Test.”

The official “Fire Island” Twitter account wrote, “WE PASSED!!” after Bechdel herself weighed in on the debate.

Rosin later issued an apology on social media: “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.”

Rosin continued, “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. 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.”

“Fire Island” creator Booster Kim exclusively told IndieWire that the film is more than just a summer rom-com.

“So much of our entertainment is made wanting to erase,” Booster said. “I think there’s room for escapism and there’s room for fantasy. But there is stuff that comes up when you are Asian and you are dating a white guy. It was important to me to reflect the reality of what it is to be a gay man of color in the movie.”

Director Andrew Ahn added, “The perspective of this film is Joel’s perspective as a gay Asian American man on this island. I think that allowed us to really explore that experience and be able to talk about those themes of racism and classism without getting preachy or too obvious.”

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