Discovering queer Arab cinema during Ramadan

Published June 21, 2021, 1:38 PM

by Rica Arevalo

Reconstructing pride in ‘Breaking Fast’

Mo and Kal go out on a date

Queerness is everywhere. Since June is pride month, we got to see a different perspective from the Arab Film and Media Institute when they brought the cast and crew of “Breaking Fast” to talk about the “Gay-rab” representation in their Ramadan comedy-romance film last June 12.

Arab-American filmmakers are underrepresented in Hollywood so it was a breath of fresh air when we saw “Breaking Fast” written and directed by Mike Mosallam. It was based on his short film.

“Breaking Fast” poster

Mo (Haaz Sleiman) is a devout Muslim working as a doctor in West Hollywood. He is in a relationship with Hassan (Patrick Sabongui) but being gay is unacceptable in Hassan’s family. Hassan’s cousin threatened he would be “outed” because of his secret Facebook profile. The solution is for Hassan to come home, marry a woman, and assure Mo that “it would just be for show.”

Broken-hearted for a year, Mo was not interested to meet a new partner until his best friend, the loud and funny Sam (Amin El Gamal), introduced him to a white actor, Kal (Michael Cassidy). Kal can speak Arabic and he was named after the character, Kal-El in “Superman,” which was both their favorite film.

Haaz Sleiman and Michael Cassidy in “Breaking Fast”

Amin El Gamal as Sam

The two even recreate the famous scene: “Easy miss, I’ve got you,” says Kal. Mo answers, “You…You’ve got me? Who’s got you?” Both are giggly smitten with each other. Kal cooks for Mo while Mo helps the actor in his script reading audition. But Mo had to take things slow because of Ramadan and he still has to find closure with Hassan.

Most Muslims are shunned for being gay but Mo’s mother played by Rula Gardinier is one sweet, campy Mama that queer Arabs and Muslims deserve to have. She accepted her son’s situation. She was supportive of his choices.

Rula Gardenier as the campy Mama

“It’s very healing because a lot of times queer Arabs and queer Muslims have to bifurcate their identity,” says actor Amin. “They have to sacrifice their queerness to get the sort of love, wit, and wisdom from an Arab mother.” Although this is Amin’s first foray into comedy as Sam, he is a well-loved character who blasted Mo to consider his feelings for a change. Mo tends to think that he knows everything. He is so prim and proper which can be disapproving to happy-go-lucky Sam.

There is a deep sense of family and warmth in this queer film. The filmmaker was successful in broaching queer Arabs to the world. We trust that the audience will take this opportunity to reconstruct pride and learn that genuine and intimate queer relationship is universal.

The pandemic has limited the film’s theatrical release. “From the perspective of this film, it was a bomber not to be able to experience this in theaters continually with an audience,” muses the director and 2020 Reel Pride Film Festival Audience Award winner. But the numerous film festivals’ ability to adapt quickly to virtual screenings gave Mike and his team the ability to engage in a wider audience. “We were able to spend the morning in Ohio, the evening in Canada, being all over in a world we probably would have been pretty selective where we were traveling to,” declares Mike.

Director Mike Mosallam

Mike has been thinking about what pride means on his ground-breaking journey. He received many messages from people coming out after watching the one-hour-and-32-minute film. “What pride strengthens,” he says, “is the idea that, in the LGBTQ+ community, the greatest gift that we can give to ourselves is the gift to choose us, ourselves, to choose that we are something to be proud of.”

Love them and accept them for what they are. It’s a very simple thing.

“Breaking Fast” recently signed a deal for international distribution. Streaming is available on Hulu, Amazon, and AppleTV.