With an accolade of awards and recognition for her screenwriting, including her work in progress film, Jinn which has already received several high ratings on the industry script database, Shereen Malherbe speaks to filmmaker Nijla Mu’min about her new highly anticipated first feature film.
SM: Tells us about your film Jinn in a snapshot.
NM: Jinn is a coming of age dramedy about a carefree black girl whose world is turned upside when her mother converts to Islam, sending her on a quest for self-definition. It’s a fun, fresh exploration of identity, Islam, millennial culture, and first love.
SM: Where do you draw your character’s experiences from?
NM: Some of my character’s experiences are loosely drawn from my experiences growing up, specifically around her introduction to Islam and the complex and multifaceted world she is brought into. Summer’s experiences also mirror mine in relation to identity- I never felt, and still don’t feel, that I fit neatly into one way of being. I am fascinated by the duality and intersections of identity, and how categories don’t fit people.
SM: I agree with that perception that categories don’t fit people. I read a tweet of yours saying ‘if you want to know why i’m making @JinnFilm, here it is. this is how i resist.’ in response to American politics, so was your character Summer written to be representative of America’s current relationship with Islam?
NM: No, I don’t feel Summer is representative of America’s current relationship with Islam, though I do think that her journey and conversion in the story does connect to some people’s own process of learning about Islam in this country. There’s a lot of misinformation and stigma at the moment, so as some audiences go on the journey with Summer, hopefully they come away with the complexity and nuance that she does. But I try not to crafts stories and characters on a macro level. It’s all about specificity in emotion and in growth. In that, people are able to relate and connect.
SM: I think that it is a great point, to focus on specificity in emotion when telling stories.
How do you find those emotions and interactions to build ideas for your films?
NM: It’s about taking every opportunity to observe and document the life and people around me, which influence my art and filmmaking. Stories come to me on the subway, looking into the eyes of strangers at a bodega, or in observing a wordless exchange on the street. I also keep a journal and write things down to remember them. I also love photography and poetry so I work with these images and build a world around them.
SM: How important is it to be out and about involved in your community?
NM: I think it’s really important to be in the world, and engage with others in the world. Whether that’s through walking down the street without headphones on and no cell phone, or going to a screening or a dance performance and letting someone’s movement impact your soul, or smiling at someone because you felt their spirit. Human interaction is necessary to break down some of the barriers we face every day. The more we can take in one another, the more we can be human to one another.
To read the full interview visit Muslimah Media Watch