This post was updated Sept. 24 at 9:00 p.m.
The only thing worse than falling in love with your best friend is confessing those feelings the night before they move across the country.
“Blue Suit,” a coming-of-age film starring alumnus Ivan Mok, follows this complicated predicament and the lessons one learns from it. Centering on two gay Asian American men, writer and director Kevin J. Nguyen said “Blue Suit” was inspired by his own life experiences. The script began as a way to creatively deal with his feelings toward his friend, Nguyen said, but soon became an important piece of representation in and of itself.
“I realized that I don’t see stories like this in the media, and if I have this story and it’s readily available, I need to make it,” Nguyen said. “Hopefully, I can inspire other folks of marginalized communities to tell their own stories, where they feel represented.”
The representation of LGBTQ Asian Americans in particular drew producer Jenine Pastores to the project because she said she also identifies as a queer Asian American. She said the media often covers coming out stories or romantic stories between friends, but there is rarely a mix of the two. “Blue Suit” is a chance to shed light on a story of LGBTQ individuals that doesn’t exclusively focus on their sexuality, Pastores said. By instead centering on the characters’ friendship, she said the film allows queer people to see an authentic relationship that is neither idealized nor hypersexualized.
“A lot of the reason I didn’t understand (my sexuality) is because it’s not something that I, as an Asian American, ever felt I had someone to look to for an explanation as to, ‘What is this? What are these feelings? And what do I do with them?’” Pastores said. “And I feel like that’s why it’s so important for stories like these to be in the media.”
And even though the main characters are gay, the universal themes of friendship and maturation transcend racial and sexual boundaries, said Vu Hoang, another producer of the film. “Blue Suit” normalizes the narrative that LGBTQ individuals are humans with stories that are worth telling, Nguyen said. The film isn’t strictly an Asian American or queer story, Nguyen said, but simply a story of two young men growing up together.
This is why “Blue Suit” is labeled coming-of-age, Pastores said. The film is not always about romance, but about growing up and realizing that things won’t always go as planned. Similarly, Nguyen said the tension at the core of the film is the struggle between what someone wants and what they need. The main character John, portrayed by Mok, may wish to pursue a relationship with his friend Henry, but what he needs is to let Henry move on. The choice between want and need is something that everyone must come to terms with eventually, and it often occurs later in life, Nguyen said.
“When you think coming-of-age, you think of teenagers or kids really coming into their own. But I think the biggest thing is that you’re constantly growing,” Nguyen said. “As adults, there’s always this idea that you have everything figured out. But the reality is, even as adults, you just don’t.”
Nguyen said the film is made more personal and relatable by its setting in the San Gabriel Valley. As a native of the 626 area, Mok said he was specifically interested in “Blue Suit” because of the setting. Mok said the San Gabriel Valley tends to be a very family-oriented neighborhood, which parallels the sense of community the film hopes to build for the LGBTQ community.
Visually, Nguyen said the sense of unity is seen especially in subtle details. For example, John lives in a house rather than an apartment because he still lives with his family – a familiar reality for those living in the 626. Having this nod to the neighborhood’s culture, Nguyen said, allows audiences from the area to relate even further to what they are seeing on screen, regardless of identity.
“For folks who grew up in the San Gabriel Valley, they’ll be able to see things like little food and boba that’s very reminiscent of Asian American culture,” Nguyen said. “Little things like that really give more depth and more of the world that the characters are navigating through.”
“Blue Suit” may be personal to Nguyen, but it touches on ideas of friendship and personal growth that everyone can relate to, he said. The representation of LGBTQ Asian American characters is key to normalizing such individuals in media and providing them a space to feel at home, he said.
“LGBT issues and relationships are not generally talked about within such a conservative Asian culture, and we don’t see it on the screen a lot of times,” Mok said. “It would be great for people that are within the LGBT+ community, especially if they’re Asian, to be able to see their stories up there to help them understand their experiences.”