“Breaking Fast” Is Breaking Ground for Gay Muslim Representation

Marvel’s "Eternals" star Haaz Sleiman and writer-director Mike Mosallam spill some Lebanese-American tea.

Hot on the heels of 2020 queer holiday romcoms Happiest Season, Dashing In December, and The Christmas Setup, 2021 brings us the VOD release of writer-director Mike Mosallam’s Breaking Fast, the first gay rom-com set during Ramadan.

Mid-Ramadan, a monthlong holiday during which observant Muslims fast from dawn until dusk, West Hollywood-based, gay Lebanese-American Mo (Haaz Sleiman) finds himself newly and unhappily single. But when sassy BFF Sam (Good Trouble’s Amin El Gamal) introduces him to the tall, handsome, all-American Kal (Michael Cassidy), Mo finds that despite their cultural differences, there may be something very special between them.
 

Expanded from Mosallam’s 2015 short film of the same name, Breaking Fast sees out actor Haaz Sleiman — who last year revealed to NewNowNext that he would play husband to Marvel’s first openly gay superhero, Phastos, in the upcoming Eternals — show a lighter, more romantic side. He also literally bares all during a hilarious sequence involving a towel gone rogue. The pair of queer Lebanese-Americans joined NewNowNext for a little tea session about the film, authentic representation, and of course, Marvel’s Eternals.

How did this evolve from a short into a feature?

Mike Mosallam: The ability to mount the feature was directly correlated to the success of the short. It was never our intention or something we thought about doing, but we were able to play Cannes and because of that and audience reactions, we saw there was a demand for a continuation of the story. I started to really put pen to paper and think about what would happen. We found an investor, and the rest is history.

How did you discuss the cultural and religious traditions that come up in the film with the actors, especially the non-Muslim ones?

Mosallam: I appreciate that question. The reality is, setting up with authentically gay and authentically Arab Muslim actors who not only were those things in their real lives but talented made this piece feel like it lived with a lot of nuance. I’d love to take credit, but the actors knew exactly what they were doing.

What made Haaz the best fit for Mo?

Mosallam: Haaz and I have been friends for many years. We both come from the same hometown [in Lebanon] and we have a history of knowing one another. We’ve crossed paths so many times; we went from distant cousins to second cousins to brothers. And Haaz, as both himself and an actor, is a pioneer in a lot of ways. He’s so wonderful and talented, and there are so few actors who could really live in the character. I don’t think Mo and Haaz are the same, but there’s so much about the world they come from that’s similar that I knew he “got it” right away. It was a good thing we had a shorthand, because I could be really upfront with him about how stuff needed to land, and he was very receptive. We had a great working dynamic.

How did you connect to Mo, Haaz? This is a much lighter character and story than that of Rafiq, the gay Syrian who flees the threat of death from his own hyper-homophobic family in last year’s Little America episode, “The Son.”

Haaz Sleiman: Big time. They’re different experiences, absolutely, and there are some similarities between Mo and I. As Lebanese [people], we have a lot of curiosity about other people’s cultures, music, food — that’s something we celebrate. I’m always curious about a guy’s traditions and eat their food and have them eat my food.

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Speaking of food, there’s a memorable scene during a dinner when Sam’s non-Muslim date tries to bring out wine. Kal explains that Mo keeps a dry house due to his religion, and things get tense. Are there lessons to be learned from the movie for people who are dating or might date someone from another culture or religion with which they aren’t very familiar?

Mosallam: I would hope that somebody from a specific ethnic, cultural, or religious background, anyone who’s dating that person, will already have enough wherewithal to ask questions and meet that person where they’re at. I think that’s about kindness and human decency.

Were any moments in the film yanked right out of real life?

Mosallam: Each of the characters embodies things about myself or what I’ve encountered. Some of the situations in the films are versions of stories from my friends or myself, but there’s nothing lifted that’s specifically biographical.

Haaz, we see your bare butt during a sure-to-be-classic scene in which Mo’s towel drops during a hug with Kal, leading to an awkward attempt to get it back on without him seeing your full monty. Was that fun to shoot?

Sleiman: It was a nightmare for me! I’m very shy. People say, “You’re an actor, you shouldn’t be shy!” But I’m really shy in many ways. I’m socially awkward as well, so when I read that scene I thought, No way I can do it, I’ll make Mike change his mind. But Mike has a vision and is a very smart man and brilliant artist and convinced me to do it. He said it’ll be done tastefully, we’ll cover your front parts with a [cock sock]. But the day when we were filming it, I was trying to put the towel back and by mistake it actually fell! I was so nervous and when I screamed like a girl, that was not acting. That was me freaking out, and Mike went, “That’s it, we’re gonna use that one!” And he picked the take I felt the most fragile and vulnerable in, but I gotta give it to him, it was pretty funny.

Mosallam: It was very fun to watch Haaz squirm through that whole day.

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Are there any other special moments from the production that stick with you?

Mosallam: For me, one of the most special experiences of shooting this film and my career was filming in the Mosque of the Islamic Center of Southern California. It was such an ally to the film and our production. They were so loving and compassionate and really embraced us, and being in the mosque shooting that scene was hugely cathartic for me.

Marvel’s Eternals was pushed from a 2020 release to November 2021 due to COVID-19. Have you seen the movie yet, Haaz, and how excited are you about it finally coming out?

Sleiman: I have not. If I’m not Angelina Jolie or Salma Hayek, you know I haven’t seen it. It’s my first Marvel film, so of course I’m excited. My gut feeling is you’ll be so proud. What Marvel has been able to accomplish, I’m so proud of them because they approached it in a very thoughtful way, and Phastos is one of the biggest superheroes in the film. I’m his husband, an architect; we have a child. Even though I wished I was the superhero, because when will we see an Arab Muslim openly gay actor playing a superhero? I can’t wait to see it.

Mike needs to pitch a gay Arab superhero flick next.

Sleiman: He wanted me to be a belly dancer. I don’t know about that.

Mosallam: I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I will start writing that treatment now.

Breaking Fast premieres on VOD and digital this Friday, January 22.

Lawrence is a New York-based travel and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in National Geographic Traveler, Time Out New York and The New York Post.
@LawrenceFerber