Director: Nijia Mumin
1h 32min | Drama | 11 March 2018 (USA)
Playing London Film Festival 2018
Young actress Zoe Renee gives an impassioned and very believable performance as Summer, a 17-year old carefree black girl in LA keen on dance, parties and keeping her Instagram feed fresh, whose world is turned upside down when her mother (Simone Missick), the popular TV meteorologist Jade Jennings, reveals she has converted to Islam. Writer-director Nijla Mumin’s teen drama Jinn looks like it is setting us up for a familiar religion vs rebellion scenario, and to an extent the film does fulfil that arc. But, though it at times feels a little on the nose (this is probably aimed at a younger audiences) Jinn dutifully covers as many angles as possible to show how complex Summer’s situation actually is. I appreciated that.
Some of the young girl’s reactions and choices are refreshingly surprising. For one thing, despite some initial clashes between Summer – who favours the kind of revealing clothing and sassy poise you’d expect from a kid into modern music videos – and her conservative-conservative-minded mother early on, Summer eventually chooses to give Islam a try to find out for herself what the appeal is. To her own surprise, she finds herself deeply moved by the experience, though this leads to inevitable questions from and tension with her friends; is this really her choice, or her mother’s?
As Summer’s journey continues and her attempt to balance her established school identity with her growing attachment to her religion grows more fraught, I was impressed by the sensitive handling of issues of religion and race; with every main character, Muslim or not, being given at least a couple of scenes to upend any preconceived ideas about them. Summer’s estranged father is an atheist but quietly prods his daughter to see where her mother is coming from, whereas the boy at school she crushes on, Tahir (Kelvin Harrison Jr), has liberal Muslim parents who eschew the portentous talk of Summer’s mother and even clashes with the Imam in her defense. I was pleased to see the film situate its lead character’s choices as not just something to be wrestled with solo, but as part of a web of connections between friends and family. Every decision about how to express herself that Summer makes is shown to impact someone else, and vice versa. Pleasing one person shuts doors to another. Our identity thus isn’t entirely our own; no one lives on an island.
It is not easy to negotiate these tides, especially in a world where someone like Summer has been brought up with social media, a tool that has, until now, simply re-affirmed her identity. Her being labelled the #halalhottie for her provocative mixing of the traditional headdress with her dancer’s leopardskin underwear is a reminder that identity is something we have exposed to the world now more than ever.