As an inside voice of the queer Muslim community, Vancouver Queer Film Festival (VQFF)’s Closing Gala Film delivers an intelligent rom-com that is also a celebration on intersectional identities.
“I have created the gay, Muslim version of Julia Roberts,” humorously says director Mike Mosallam about his acclaimed film Breaking Fast.
Building complex and realistic queer characters, from an inside perspective of the gay Muslim community, the love story between Mo and Kal during the holy month of Ramadan was chosen as this year’s closing act (Aug. 23).
Most commercial narratives about intersectional communities have been co-opted and are frequently told stereotypically by voices other than their own. For Mosallam, realistic discussions from gay people became an uplifting exercise on genre cinema from a place of personal experience.
Mosallam knows creating truthful characters, comfortable and confident in their own identities, who try to find their place inside the community are living experiences that need to be relatable to everyone watching.
“I think my message regarding queer love is that it is no different than any other kind of love and it shouldn’t be seen as different. We all want it; we all want to find our person, and those ideas are beyond identity. They are human nature,” says Mosallam, to whom Breaking Fast is a story about two complicated creatures trying to figure out how to uncomplicate their lives enough to let the other in.
For him, when these stories are authored by those who have lived the experience, the nuance of those identities is portrayed in the most specific and authentic version on screen. In a historical moment when multiple voices are asking to be heard, this optimistic exercise on the power of affection treats identity forms (religious, sexual, gender and otherwise) as harmonious lenses by which individuals interact with the world.
Joy as an Act of Resistance: love is love is love
VQFF’s Artistic Director Anoushka Ratnarajah says the film’s tender and loving approach on queer love is exactly what made it the ideal candidate to deliver the festival’s final message: authenticity and diversity in representation is a vital part of the social justice process, and one tactic in creating a more equitable world.
“This romantic comedy is a rarity in queer cinema: it’s directed by an artist from the community represented on screen, centering and representing a queer Muslim identity with humor, care, and intelligence. This is rare in the film industry, in general, where Muslim men have been historically cast as violent, regressive stereotypes, and Muslim women as helpless victims especially in mainstream Hollywood. Breaking Fast shatters these stereotypes with characters that are tender, thoughtful, stubborn, loving, outspoken, and funny,” says Ratnarajah.
Reaffirming the importance of independent film festivals for representing marginalized identities historically underrepresented in cinema, the artistic director also cheered Breaking Fast’s unique happy ending in a year when most of queer films seem to have a darker political tone as a response to this painful historical moment for different marginalized bodies.
“The thing that really stood out to me when I first watched Breaking Fast, was that Mosallam’s endeavor is to cultivate joy; and to celebrate the richness and diversity of the queer Muslim characters in his film, who all approach faith, culture, language, family, and relationships differently,” says Ratnarajah, reinsuring our community’s necessity to understand joy and the search for happiness as an act of resistance.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the 32nd annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival has adapted to an online format in order to offer at-home audiences the best in independent queer cinema and will stream its program from Aug. 13–23. For more information, please visit www.queerfilmfestival.ca.