Teenage years can be a difficult time as one tries establish an identity. But what happens when religion is suddenly put into the mix? In Jinn, a young woman must learn how to fit Islam into her life and determine how to adapt herself to a new way of seeing things.
Summer (Zoe Renee) is a typical Los Angeles high school student. She and two friends are working on a dance routine for a talent show. How risqué can they make it without causing trouble?
But then her mother Jade (Simone Missick), a local TV meteorologist, converts to Islam. How will her new faith affect Summer? For example, Summer loves pepperoni on her pizza, but that is not halal. What about covering her hair and the look it gives her? Summer’s friends bring up all the negative (and ignorant) stereotypes about Islam. As Summer goes with Jade to the masjid, she begins to come to terms with what is required.
She also meets Tahir (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.), a classmate who also attends the masjid. Tahir has grown up Muslim, and he guides her into the lifestyle that he has lived his life in. He introduces her to beef pepperoni—and also to his parents who are welcoming and accepting and seem to have a very easy approach to Islam. In time a romance develops between Summer and Tahir.
In time, Summer opts to accept Islam herself. But just saying the words is not the same as internalizing a religion and its teachings. She struggles to keep her old ways. At one point, she takes a selfie with an appropriate head covering, but in a scanty top and posts it with a hashtag “halalhottie”. She doesn’t seem to grasp how she is supposed to act within her faith. It seems like a game to her. In time various issues will arise that put her in conflict with her friends, her family, and the masjid.
The film offers a view of Islam that is much gentler than we often see in the media. These are the kinds of people we would know and like. When we hear the imam’s sermons, they are not that different at their core than what might be heard in a Christian church. And in fact, as I watched the film it seemed to me that the story might well be very similar if it involved a conversion to Christianity. Young Christians have the same kind of struggles (and failures) that Summer faces.
Jade is also an interesting study in conversion, although the film spends less time on her story. She has found in Islam a sense of peace and belonging. She has something of a new convert’s zeal, studying the Qur’an regularly. But she also, at times, seems to be trying to reinvent herself—such as when she tries on possible Muslim names. When Jade decides to begin wearing her hijab on camera it is both a personal discipline and a declaration for the world to see. (And it could be detrimental to her job.) For Jade the hijab is a serious symbol; for Summer it is a fashion statement.
The title comes from the cosmology of angels, jinns, and humanity that the imam mentions in a sermon. Angels are made of light, but have no free will, only doing what God wishes. Jinns are born of fire, humans are born of clay, but both have free will. Jinns can bring their fire to warm the world or destroy it. Summer begins to consider if perhaps she is a jinn and how that will shape her understanding of what she is doing with her faith.
This was one of the films I most anticipated at AFIFest, and it didn’t disappoint. This is a film that could be valuable for all people of faith to consider how we bring together our personal lives and our religious lives. We may want to believe that the two are inseparable, but as we watch Summer and others in the film, we come to understand how easy it is to treat our faith as something to be used or not when convenient. It can be something we put on or take off (like a hijab or a cross necklace) as it suits us. But we also see those in the film for whom their faith is integral to their lives—leading them in righteousness.