By Ali Moosavi.
It is a romantic comedy about how people live their lives and how people love each other. I think nobody should watch this film and say here is what it means to be a Muslim, because there is no one way to be a Muslim.”
When one hears about a film involving a gay Arab Muslim, the first usual thoughts are that it’s going to be a drama about the shame and secrecy of being gay within these communities and possible clashes with and banishment by family and friends. However, writer-director Mike Mosallam, treats his feature debut Breaking Fast as a traditional, old fashioned romantic comedy; boy breaks up with boyfriend, meets a new boy, they fall in love, there are complications along the way but love ultimately triumphs.
Moe (Haaz Sleiman) is a gay Muslim doctor living in Los Angeles. His boyfriend tells him that under family pressure he has agreed to breakup their relationship and marry a girl, otherwise his family would out him, which he isn’t prepared for. Moe’s family though have completely accepted him for what he is. His mum adores him, and his dad is happy just watching TV all the time. Moe attends the birthday party of his best friend Sam (Amin El Gamal), who is gay in a very flamboyant way. In that party Moe meets Kal (Michael Cassidy) and it’s love at first sight for both and the usual ups and downs in their relationship ensue.
The film is set during the holy month of Ramadan in which Muslims fast. Moe is a devout Muslim, praying five times a day, fasting, etc. We get to see some of the delicious food that is eaten during Iftar (the daily time when the fast is ended). This is normally a time for family gathering and Mosallam has set some of the discussion scenes during this get together.
Breaking Fast also looks at how being gay fits in with being a Muslim. This is explored in a scene where Moe, in an argument with Sam, defends his faith and insists that there is nothing against gays in the Muslim’s holy book and some extremists have misinterpreted the teachings of the Prophet for their own political and worldly gains, while Sam accuses Moe of shutting himself off from the reality and ignoring the crimes happening now in the name of religion.
Breaking Fast is an inoffensive and sweet natured with a few quite funny situations. It mainly focuses on the romcom elements, with the socio-political themes and discussions remaining in the background. With endearing and funny characters such as Sam, Moe’s mother and Moe himself and many possibilities for comic situations resulting from clash of cultures, it has the potential for a TV sitcom.
I had a brief chat with Mike Mosallam.
Rather than taking the heavy approach of exploring the social and religious issues facing a gay Muslim, you’ve treated the film as just a normal lighthearted romcom. Was that one of your intentions?
Well, I will go on the record saying that gays are normal people and lead normal romcom lives, so yes, this was very much the intention and I’m glad and appreciate it that you’ve recognized it as such. I was trying to tell a different kind of story from those that we normally see on this issue. I think part of what’s important to me is that gays are very much part of society in a way that doesn’t always have to be shrouded in shame or in secrecy and fear but they just live everyday lives like everybody else here.
One of the key scenes in the film is the argument between Sam and Moe regarding Islam and homophobia.
I think from Moe’s vantage point, he does not want to blame the religion. It is not the religion’s fault how man has interpreted and sort of bastardized it and have chosen to ignore the mercy of God. That perspective in very valid and true but what Sam is arguing is also quite true, which is even though Moe’s viewpoint may be true, it doesn’t prevent people from acting out in the name of God doing horrible things to people like the LGBTQ community. I think as Muslims we have to hold space for both. We have to acknowledge that people have embraced the religion and have chosen to make it work for them, while some have done some horrific things in the name of what is beautiful, pure and a real guide to life; thus compelling some people to say, that is not my religion, and I fall in that category. You know that those people are not acting in the name of God, they are acting in an act of fear.
With what’s happening all over the world, I guess this is an argument which is taking place everywhere now.
I think that’s very true. It is a discussion that we’re having, not obviously just within the LGBT community, but I think in general Muslims have always had to defend their faith against extremists who have chosen to do horrific things in the name of Islam. I think you’ll find even other religions doing the same things. We’ve always had that sort of conversation within the context of other religions too. This film is not a documentary on gays and Muslims. It is a romantic comedy about how people live their lives and how people love each other. I think nobody should watch this film and say here is what it means to be a Muslim, because there is no one way to be a Muslim and in the end this is a film about humanity and the way in which we love and that’s really the focus.
The film started as a short film. So what was in the short film and how did you expand it?
The short film essentially started where Moe was going to a party and it ends with the first night that he meets Kal; so it’s probably the first 10 minutes of the movie after the break up. As the short film was set on the first night of Ramadan, and we had the convention of Ramadan as a backdrop for the movie, the feature could expand into the entire month and we then had the ability to use those 30 days and fasting as a convention and exploring it within the relationship of these men.
What is the release plan for the film? Is it going to be streamed on things like Netflix ?
Sadly. because of COVID we aren’t able to screen in theaters but hopefully we will be on Netflix one day. Right now, as of January 22nd you can watch the film on Amazon, Apple, anywhere you can rent or buy a film and then hopefully eventually we’ll make our way to or Netflix or Hulu or something like that. I hope it gets a wide audience and people go to see it.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015).