Behind the Lens

S1 E6 | FULL EPISODE

Nijla Mu'min Creates a Black Muslim Coming-of-Age Story

Growing up, director and writer Nijla Mu'min didn't see nuanced representations of girls like her, so she created her own with her semi-autobiographical feature 'Jinn'.

AIRED: November 06, 2018 | 0:04:35
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TRANSCRIPT

It's really special to have my friends, my family here tonight.

Almost emotional.

This film is just me wanting to give a voice to a story that always lived inside of me.

- Hey!

- You ok?

- Yeah, I'm good.

- I...um... [dialogue fades out]

Jinn centers on a teenage girl, her name is Summer.

And her mother Jade becomes interested in Islam.

- [Arabic] As-Salaam-Alaikum.

- Wa-Alaikum-Salaam.

She introduces Summer to Islam.

- This must be your daughter.

The relationship between Summer and her mother is reflective

of some of the tension that I had with my own mother...

- Summer, put that back on!

- Why?

...and growing up African-American Muslim.

I was born in East Oakland.

Grew up going to a masjid called Masjidul Waritheen.

Just a sense of togetherness and community that

I experienced there really informed my earliest memories.

My mother and father actually were married at this masjid.

They have a picture,

I think standing right here on these steps.

I love the vibrant African-American Muslim community that I was born into.

Just like many teenage girls and teenagers,

I started to question a lot when I got older.

- I wanna be what my mother wants but I'm scared of what I want.

- My mother always says life is about growth, about reinvention.

I'd like to switch things up, explore new styles, read new books.

Before I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker, I started writing poetry when I was a pre-teen.

It helped me make sense of my life,

make sense of my family,

explore my own identity.

- I'll recite a poem for you guys.

And I want to make Summer a poet...

- I'm a smokeless fire.

- I'm a smokeless flame.

...continuining my own conversation with myself.

When I was in public schools, I had a lot of friends who were not Muslim;

music influences and ways to dress that were very different.

To have representations where you're able to explore that confusion

is important, and we need to see more imperfect, textured representations

of black people, of black Muslims, of black girls that allow us to ask questions

and feel okay with being human.

- Your mom cool with you being here?

- I told her I was hanging out with some friends.

- Why lie?

This film pushes those questions of communication

between family members...

- Summer.

...all the things that I think I struggled with growing up.

At the same time, the film is really a love letter to my family.

So I want to create a space where we can have that coexist.

If I can do that in this film, I've been successful.

My father is here.

This film is many many years in the making,

and it really takes a lot to be vulnerable

and to tell your story.

And there are times for me when I said

"you know what, I'm not gonna make this film"

because some people didn't understand

what I was doing, and so I doubted myself.

And at the end of the day,

I have to include myself in the dialogue.

And if I can't tell my story,

I can't live, so for me art is survival.

It's beautiful for me to make a film that honors my religion and

all the people that helped me to be free and be who I am today.

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