Fire Island Star Margaret Cho: 'Pride Is Still About Revolution'

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(Photo: HuffPost)
(Photo: HuffPost)

(Photo: HuffPost)

Released just in time for Pride month, the new romantic comedy Fire Island has already gone down a storm with viewers and critics alike.

Based loosely on Pride And Prejudice, the Disney+ film revitalises both the original text and the whole rom-com genre, not only centring around a queer group of characters, but with a cast predominantly made up of Asian-American actors.

Among them is stand-up comedian Margaret Cho, whose existing acting credits include All-American Girl, Drop Dead Diva and one of Sex And The City’s most iconic moments ever (her character sets up the runway show where Carrie ends up becoming “fashion roadkill”).

Margaret Cho (Photo: SERGIO GARCIA)
Margaret Cho (Photo: SERGIO GARCIA)

Margaret Cho (Photo: SERGIO GARCIA)

“It’s a beautiful movie and it is really a genuine romantic comedy but told by and with queer Asian-Americans,” Margaret says on why Fire Island has resonated with so many people.

“And also the gorgeous bodies,” she adds with a laugh. “And it’s just so funny.

“It’s really sweet and sincere, but also really talks about some deep issues, whether that is class bias and racism within the queer community, that we often don’t acknowledge.

“We are moving past a lot of what Asian-American and queer cinema has been about, which is sort of ‘coming out’ and dealing with identity against the backdrop of the mainstream world. Now we’re talking about our lives in minutiae, on vacation, which I think is really interesting too. And about our chosen families.”

Margaret Cho in Fire Island (Photo: Disney)
Margaret Cho in Fire Island (Photo: Disney)

Margaret Cho in Fire Island (Photo: Disney)

She adds: “And it’s also about gay pride and gay prejudice – we have to have pride, in a sense, to deal with the rest of the world. But at the same time, the prejudice within us is eating us from the inside out. That we’re not acknowledging.

“And how the walls of class can still be very rigid and very high, but that can only be broken down with love, which really is what the original Pride And Prejudice is all about.”

Who was the first queer person you can remember looking up to?

Harvey Milk. My parents owned a gay bookstore in the 70s in San Francisco. All of the people working there were gay, and they were all early supporters of Harvey Milk. His assassination was the most devastating experience, as a child, that I can remember. It was something that was just so unbelievable.

He was really canonised early as a saint in my eyes. So that combined with the desperation and devastation of AIDS that followed, everybody who lived and loved and survived and died during that time really became a saint, you know? That era was so traumatic and difficult, so anyone who was able to be resilient and live through it, really is incredible. They’re all walking miracles. For all of us that were there, we just know. So I have a lot of gay heroes and gay icons from that time and beyond.

Harvey Milk pictured in 1977 (Photo: Bettmann via Getty Images)
Harvey Milk pictured in 1977 (Photo: Bettmann via Getty Images)

Harvey Milk pictured in 1977 (Photo: Bettmann via Getty Images)

What was the first LGBTQ TV show or film that you remember resonating with you?

It was actually an older one called Sunday Bloody Sunday. It’s an early 70s film, but I saw it in the 80s, with Glenda Jackson, Murray Head and Peter Finch. And it’s the first time, I think, that a sensual gay kiss is portrayed in film, in a very positive light.

Murray Head has spoken about it in interviews recently about how the sort of very male crew at the time were incredibly disgusted and freaked out by this.

It’s a beautiful film, and it really presents bisexuality in a way that’s very nuanced, for the 70s. And it’s Glenda Jackson at her most beautiful. It’s a great film.

It was made by John Schlesinger who also made Midnight Cowboy – another gay film that I know is not technically gay, but is still very gay, if you watch it. John and I were friends before his death, and he was such an amazing director, and such an incredible pioneer. 

Murray Head and Peter Finch in Sunday Bloody Sunday (Photo: United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock)
Murray Head and Peter Finch in Sunday Bloody Sunday (Photo: United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock)

Murray Head and Peter Finch in Sunday Bloody Sunday (Photo: United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock)

What’s a song you associate with your own coming out?

I think it would be, oddly, anything from Yazoo. Don’t Go, or anything off Upstairs At Eric’s. There’s something about Alison Moyet’s voice that feels very queer-centric, and resonates.

What was the most recent LGBTQ show or film that made an impact on you?

I. Love Legendary. I scream and cry and freak out when I watch it… I think it’s so amazing. There are so many things that go into it, because voguing and ballroom, it’s not just dance. It’s acrobatics, it’s circus, it’s variety, but it’s also art, it’s history. I really go so hard on Legendary. I have to watch it multiple times, I’m so into it.

I watch ballroom all the time on TikTok or YouTube and so I am always excited to see people that I’ve seen before, too. Knowing that world and then watching it on a competition show is very gratifying.

The Legendary judging panel with host DaShaun Wesley (Photo: HBO Max)
The Legendary judging panel with host DaShaun Wesley (Photo: HBO Max)

The Legendary judging panel with host DaShaun Wesley (Photo: HBO Max)

Who is your ultimate queer icon?

I do not think that we would be where we are historically without Madonna. Madonna brought so much queerness to the global gaze. She brought so much awareness to AIDS, and was so forward-thinking about where we should be in terms of sexuality, queerness, leather and bisexuality in particular.

That kind of female relationship and female ideation and female goddess worship, within the community, it tracks in line with Barbra Streisand and Cher and Judy Garland. But with Madonna, she also brought a sense of urgency and a crassness to it. All those other ladies before were quite classy, even Cher is very classy, still. But Madonna brought a kind of earthiness and gravitas, which I think is really special. She’s amazing.

And I think she’s doing that with aging now, too, although people are not ready to embrace the way that she has decided to age. But I think it’s really fantastic. She’s like, ‘I’m going to age like this, and you’re going to experience my… NFTs’. I love it! It’s going to be appreciated later, we’re going to see how great this all is later.

Madonna on stage at the VMAs in 2021 (Photo: Kevin Mazur/MTV VMAs 2021 via Getty Images)
Madonna on stage at the VMAs in 2021 (Photo: Kevin Mazur/MTV VMAs 2021 via Getty Images)

Madonna on stage at the VMAs in 2021 (Photo: Kevin Mazur/MTV VMAs 2021 via Getty Images)

Who is a queer person in the public eye right now that makes you excited about the future?

Joel Kim Booster and Bowen Yang – both of them are so tremendous and talented and gorgeous. Fire Island is so great for them, but I know this is just the beginning of what they’re going to bring. I’m so enamoured with them.

Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamora and Joel Kim Booster (Photo: Monica Schipper via Getty Images)
Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamora and Joel Kim Booster (Photo: Monica Schipper via Getty Images)

Bowen Yang, Conrad Ricamora and Joel Kim Booster (Photo: Monica Schipper via Getty Images)

Why do you think Pride is still so important today?

In the United States, we’re dealing with anti-gay legislation and anti-trans laws, and the possibility that parents would be given jail sentences for having trans children, which is… why are we dealing with that? The violence against the queer people, the legislation to me is so disgusting. How have we come to this?

We’re still dealing with a lot of homophobia on a government level, which is a really huge problem. And so, to have Pride is really still about revolution. We still need to resist, we still need to bound together and we still need to fight this ignorance.

Margaret Cho:
Margaret Cho:

Margaret Cho: "We still need to resist, we still need to bound together and we still need to fight ignorance." (Photo: SERGIO GARCIA)

What’s your message for the next generation of LGBTQ people?

My message is really just to celebrate who you are, because we’re part of this incredible story of resilience and resistance and joy that has existed since the very beginning of time. And now we’re coming into a special era where we’re going to be seen and we’re going to be heard, and we should celebrate that and enjoy that.

And look to history for inspiration, and continue to inspire the rest of us. Because even though we’ve been here, we still need to learn. I love that I can learn from the new generations, they really teach me a lot.

Fire Island is available to watch now on Disney+.

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This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.

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