WHEN Sydney-based film director Fadia Abboud finished the first season of web series I Luv U But… last year, she underestimated the scope of the response she would receive.
“I wanted to do another (season) because we had such a great response for the first one,” she said.
“I would receive — and still do — loads of emails from people all over the world that connect with I Luv U But…”
The series evolves around the lives of Mouna (Abbey Aziz) and Sam (George El Hindi), a young Arab-Australian husband and wife who are actually lesbian and gay respectively but living in a marriage of convenience — thanks to the traditions of their Lebanese heritage where being gay is taboo and coming out to their parents, siblings and extended family is not an option.
Through the sham marriage, the duo (pictured below) move out of their family homes to live their lives and no longer have to deal with questions of when they will get married.
Abboud said the first season attracted viewers around the world, reaching places where being LGBTI was either illegal or still taboo — such as India, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia.
“We hit a chord on a subculture that exists everywhere. ‘Not coming-out’ is not just an Arab-Australian thing,” she said.
“(Season one) reflected a subculture that is rarely seen and often misunderstood.
“It’s important to tell these stories because people that do live in the closet have something to relate to… that’s no so negative. Not coming out… isn’t for a lot of people. It’s a way of life that becomes second nature.
“It still messes with your head but it’s weighed up against the headache that you could cause your family by coming out and it’s easier for some to live that way.”
Abboud stressed that the web series did not encourage people to stay in the closet.
“Each person is in their situation and has to deal with the consequences. We are not encouraging people to stay in the closet. We can’t force people to come out, either,” she said.
“It’s about doing what suits you, making your own mind up based on your own circumstances. The series merely shows this way of life which many people live and don’t want sympathy for.
“(It) is not just about ‘to come-out or not to come-out’ — it’s about Arab-Australian families… It shows ethnic life in Australia that isn’t about crime, or us laughing at ourselves.”
Themes explored in the series include family pressure to have children, safe sex, and rebound relationships, orgy etiquette, homophobia, gay stereotyping, open relationships and the damaging power of gossip.
Last year, I Luv U But… was nominated for Most Engaging Youtube Channel in the Beirut Social Media Awards.
“I was really amazed at the nomination,” Abboud said, highlighting that Lebanon was the most LGBTI-accepting of the Arab world.
“I think regions like the Arab world that have been in constant flux have put gay rights on the back burner. It’s easier for governments to say ‘we don’t have energy to think about these things’ while the country is in turmoil.
“But there have been many activist groups in these countries [such as Helem in Lebanon] that haven’t been silent about gay rights and are making slow but important positive steps to create awareness about the issue.
“As long as our mother countries still criminalise homosexuality, our families will continue to consider it taboo. In Australia, I think it would also help if we had same-sex marriage and when our parents watch this on TV it might help make them understand that being gay is okay.”
Abboud also credited some known Arab-Australians who were LGBTI allies, such as NSW Governor Marie Bashir, or who have themselves publicly come out, such as SBS journalist and Mardi Gras TV highlights co-host Patrick Abboud and newly-published author Tanya Saad.
“It’s also important to have role models… sharing their stories and hopefully our elders hear this and know that some families are accepting of their gay kids,” Abboud said.
“More people have to come out for sure… but it’s a long hard battle and not everyone wants to do it.”
I Luv U But… was filmed on location around Sydney’s inner west and western suburbs, and also stars Alissar Gazal as Mouna’s mother (pictured below) and Rose Souaid as Sam’s mother. Special guest appearances include Paul Capsis, Rhys Bobridge and Neil Singleton.
I Luv U But… season two premiers online on May 6. To watch the series and catch up on the first season and see the trailer for season two, click here