It’s been quite a week for filmmaker Andrew Ahn.
On Wednesday, his Hulu film Fire Island earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Television Movie, and on Thursday night at the opening of Outfest he received the LGBTQIA+ festival’s Outfest Achievement Award, recognizing a body of work that includes Fire Island, Driveways (2019), and Spa Night (2016).
The festival called Ahn “a beloved member of the Outfest family” and “a champion of promoting diversity in the arts by mentoring youth filmmakers through programs like our OutSet program, among many others.”
“It’s cool,” Ahn told Deadline of the Outfest honor. “It feels a little early in my career. I legit tried to turn it down when [Outfest director of programming] Mike Dougherty emailed me about it, but they were very supportive and effusive that this was my time. I’m so thankful because Outfest was a big part of my coming of age as a filmmaker. I screened both of my short films here. I’ve screened all of my features here.”
Actor Joel Kim Booster, who stars in Fire Island and just earned an Emmy nomination himself for writing the film, introduced Ahn at Outfest, noting that the two minutes he was allotted were insufficient to properly laud the director. Accepting the award, Ahn said, “Outfest is special to me. In 2007, I saw my first gay Korean film here, and in 2012 I introduced by mom to my gay friends for the first time at [Outfest] Fusion. I would not be who I am if it wasn’t for Outfest, both as a filmmaker and as a human being.”
The actors strike, which officially began only a few hours after the Outfest opening night event, was much on the director’s mind.
“Proper compensation, residuals, creative rights, really protecting ourselves against AI — I think there’s so many things that need to be addressed by the AMPTP,” Ahn told Deadline. “I stand in solidarity with my writer friends and my actor friends because this affects all of us. These unions are fighting for a more sustainable creative industry. So I think that the studios should listen up.”
Ahn said the strikes are causing him to hit the pause button on upcoming films.
“I’m having to put projects on hold. I’m having to chill, but honestly it’s worth it because workers’ rights are important,” he said, adding with a laugh that the upside is “I could use a vacation.”
Ahn’s films have expanded cinematic depictions of the LGBTQIA+ community to include people of color who for a long time were either tangential or absent from gay-themed motion pictures. Fire Island, loosely based on Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, features a diverse cast that includes Booster, Bowen Yang, Margaret Cho, Conrad Ricamora, Tomas Matos, Torian Miller, and Bradley Gibson.
“I’m out here trying to make as many queer Asian American things as possible so that people understand the diversity within the diversity,” Ahn told Deadline on the Outfest red carpet. “I think it’s so important to talk about intersectional identity and that being queer mixed with something else can really change the experience. It’s not simple math, you know? And so I wanted to talk about that complexity, that nuance, and I thought film is the perfect medium to do that because you have to witness a human being on screen. And the humanity there I think is so important to building empathy.”
Along with Fire Island, Emmy voters this week recognized the work of other projects with Asian American talent. The Netflix series Beef, created by Lee Sung Jin, earned more than a dozen nominations, among them Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series, and acting nods for leads Steven Yeun and Ali Wong, and supporting actors Joseph Lee and Young Manzino (Maria Bello also landed a supporting actress nomination).
“Fighting for Asian American representation in this industry, it’s tricky… It often feels like two steps forward, one step back,” Ahn said. “I want more creators to have authorship. I want more actors to be quote, unquote ‘green-lightable.’ I want more people as executives, as publicists, as journalists, as critics. It’s a battle won on all fronts, and so I am going to continue to do what I do.”
He added, “I’m going to continue to mentor other Asian American, queer Asian American creators, and hope that it’s not just one show a season or one show and one movie, but that it’s a diversity, a cannon of films and TV shows that are all different that we can love, hate, disagree on. That, for me, will be when we achieve a real kind of equity in the representation landscape.”