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    Breaking Fast Is a Fun Rom-Com About Gay Arabs

    By Gary M. Kramer–

    Also screening in the Frameline44 Pride Showcase is out gay writer/director Mike Mosallam’s fabulous rom-com, Breaking Fast. Mosallam’s wonderful feature debut—based on his 2015 short film of the same name—gives visibility to queer Muslims. Out actor Haaz Sleiman exudes charisma and displays palpable comic anxiety as Mo, a heartbroken gay Muslim who meets Kal (Michael Cassidy) during Ramadan. Because the Holy Month forbids impure thoughts and activities, Mo is forced to practice self-control. 

    Mosallam’s clever conceit allows Mo and Kal to fall in love as their relationship develops over numerous romantic meals and dates. But as the guys talk over meals, alone or with friends, there are discussions about how gay Arabs reconcile their sexuality and their religion. To Mosallam’s credit, these moments are engaging and enlightening, not didactic. Moreover, they balance out the charming romance that develops as Mo and Kal slowly fall in love.

    Mosallam and Sleiman chatted with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about making Breaking Fast.

    Gary M. Kramer: Mike, there are not a lot of films by or about gay Arabs. What decisions did you make, and what pressure did you face, in telling this story and representing this community?

    Mike Mosallam: The very creation of [Breaking Fast] came about because no one looked like me, or represented me or my friends, or the people from my background and where we lived. We don’t see ourselves reflected, so the visibility and representation of these experiences, and our culture, and characters who are seen as nonthreatening, was most important to me. I haven’t experienced any backlash yet, but when the film has a wider reach, people will have opinions about it. But I say let them. That’s the beauty of art.

    Gary M. Kramer: The gay Arab characters range from closeted to virginal to flamboyant. Can you talk about the images, assumptions, and stereotypes of queer/Arab men in the film?

    Mike Mosallam:
    I wanted to create a range of characters living the same experience with different versions of that experience. Generally, what I have seen so far are gay Muslim men living in fear, shame, or in hiding. I have to acknowledge that, and though that experience is exacerbated in the media, it comes from a real place. But it is not my experience.

    Gary M. Kramer: Your film smartly defies some rom-com tropes while embracing others. Can you talk about the tone?

    Mike Mosallam: So much of my definition of love was built on the idea that Julia Roberts finds, courts, runs away from, and ends up with the guy. She was my muse on how I found love in the world. So, I thought, if Julia Roberts was a gay Muslim man living in West Hollywood … . And I thought there is no other better Julia Roberts than Haaz.

    Haaz Sleiman: I’m not as pretty as she is. [Mike disagrees.]

    Gary M. Kramer: Haaz, what can you say about playing the comedic, gay romantic lead in Breaking Fast?

    Haaz Sleiman: This was my first rom-com leading role. I was frightened. But I clicked into my empathy and love for the screenplay and the importance of the story. My love took over my fear. Mike’s energy made me feel comfortable. I’m grateful I did it. My favorite thing about the film is that it has a big inner child. I’m corny in real life. I do silly things, like voices. It’s cute, because you’re being intimate, and when it’s reciprocated, it is really sweet.

    Gary M. Kramer: Haaz, are you like Mo, who is described as, “a rigid, self-centered loner who runs away from challenges?” How did you identify with the character?

    Haaz Sleiman: To a certain extent, absolutely, yes! That’s what a lot of people can relate to. Not everyone is like that, but it’s not an uncommon quality. Being controlling and trying to protect yourself from being hurt—that’s a human quality. And that’s what is so great about Mo; he’s imperfect, and perfectly human.

    Gary M. Kramer: You get to sing twice in the film. Are you a show tune queen? What do you like to perform? 

    Haaz Sleiman: I love to sing. I’ve seen The Sound of Music a hundred times, so to sing one of the songs from one of my all-time favorite films was beyond a dream. Mike is the big show tune queen. I’m not. I once did a musical, called Venice, at the Public Theater, which was very difficult. You have to be an athlete.  I’m not that much of a big fan of musicals. Music is my passion, though. I wanted to be a recording artist.

    © 2020 Gary M. Kramer

    Published on June 11, 2020