When it comes to LGBTQ films, there are a number of good romantic comedies. And a new film, Breaking Fast by writer and director Mike Mosallam, is adding the underrepresented queer, Arab Muslim-American voices to cinema.
"Mosallam has said many times that the reason he wrote this short to begin with is someone asked him who represents you in film that you’ve seen? And he thought about it and he just couldn’t think of one example of someone who represents who he is in his community, so he set out to write it," says Breaking Fast producer Bay Dariz.
Based on the short film of the same name, Breaking Fast follows the journey of Mo, a practicing and endearingly shy yet tightly wound Muslim living in West Hollywood who’s learning to navigate life after heartbreak. He meets Kal, an all-American aspiring actor who offers to break fast with him nearly every night during the holy month of Ramadan. As Mo and Kal learn more about each other, Breaking Fast explores how religion and sexuality impact our relationships.
"The short was basically one night [of Ramadan] ... but the idea was everyone wanted to know what happens with these two guys? There's a whole month of Ramadan, why don't we explore the rest of it?"
Haaz Sleiman's portrayal of Mo marks the Lebanese star's first romantic lead to his long list of film and television roles. "It was really important for Mosallem to cast an authentically Arab actor ... and Haaz is such a charismatic, really compelling guy who has a great way of being awkward, which is something we didn't know he had in him," jokes Dariz.
He also says that actor Michael Cassidy who plays Kal, "is just nothing but charisma and fell into that role so wonderfully."
"Their dynamic just lights up the screen," Dariz adds. "I mean the whole movie wouldn't work if they didn't have that beautiful dynamic between them."
The attraction between Mo and Kal is constant throughout the film, but Mo's dedication to his faith means that he must remain chaste during Ramadan. However, rather than stifling the character's relationship, this dynamic lets it grow.
The exploration of maintaining a strict religious discipline is not something that's common in most LGBTQ films, oftentimes due to the rejection many people face within communities of faith. But Breaking Fast shows that you can balance sexuality and religion without pitting them against each other, and without alienating viewers.
"I think the film makes a pretty good case for why these two things should not be in conflict," says Dariz. "The film's not trying to give anyone any answers, it's not trying to preach to anybody and trying to say this is how things are and should be. It's more saying here's one perspective that you might not have seen before."
Just as it was important for writer/director Mosallam to write and create his own content, Dariz says the feedback they've received as the film is shown at festivals has reaffirmed that other queer Arab Muslim-Americans long for this representation.
"Some of the messages we've gotten have just been so unbelievable and shown us that no matter what happens with the success of the film, it's already done what we set out to do," says Dariz. "It's one of the highlights of my life and career to be involved with this film."
You can watch Breaking Fast through the virtual Milwaukee Film Festival now through October29.