After a successful Kickstarter campaign in which we raised over $25,000 and received contributions and endorsements from the likes of Ava DuVernay and Issa Rae, Avril and I began to actively pitch our film to get more financing in order to go into production. During a financing intensive, where indie filmmakers are invited to pitch their films to investors and producers and learn more about film financing, we were met with disinterest and condescension when talking about the film's subject matter. Upon learning of our low budget, one white male producer asked if we'd be shooting the film on iPhones, and laughed. That experience set us up for what was to come—the rhetoric of diversity and inclusion in filmmaking versus a reality that was significantly less rosy. Many filmmakers of color and women just don't have the money to make films, despite a very public push for inclusion and diversity. Systemic barriers to funding, resources, and directing opportunities underscore this reality. We went on to pitch and present our film to over 60 executives, financiers, and production companies at Film Independent's Fast Track film market. One of them would later become a key investor.
Upon learning of our low budget, one white male producer asked if we'd be shooting the film on iPhones, and laughed.
A year and a half after writing the first draft of Jinn, I was in Los Angeles preparing to shoot the film. I was online reading about Trump's Muslim travel ban as I reviewed shot lists for some of the first days of shooting, which began earlier this month. I felt angry, defeated—and alive. I was ready to make something that I had never seen before: a story about my father and my community, about my students and about myself as an insider and outsider to Islam. In one scene, a character, Jade, reads a dua, or invocation, alone in her room at night. It is a dua that Muslims read when they are uncertain or don't know what to do. My father read me the dua years ago when I was conflicted and I added it to the film in one of my later revisions. As the actress read, tears flowed from her eyes and from mine. The conviction and feeling that I associated with that reading was captured in the performance, and it was one of the most transcendent moments I've ever had in a film set—a moment where a director's vision aligns so perfectly to what is being performed and shot. I will always remember that.
By making a film where a black girl dances, kisses, and reads the Qur'an, I am resisting.