The Spirit of “Jinn”: An Interview with Lead Star Zoe Renee

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A virtual newcomer to the scene, Zoe Renee had started out in a short film but it is her feature film debut that has made her a breakout star and a name people are buzzing about. The film is Jinn, where she plays the central character of Summer, an aspiring dancer whose life changes when her mother abruptly converts to Islam, forcing her to re-evaluate herself. The film makes its nationwide release in select theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on November 16 from Orion Classics.

World Film Geek had the chance to talk to Renee about the film.

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Thank you so much for talking about Jinn. I saw the film and it was such a riveting film with a realistic feel to it.
Awesome! I’m so glad!

What attracted you to the role of Summer?
What attracted me to the role was the fact that I’ve never seen the character before. She was African-American with thick hair, but also a Muslim. I felt like it was a character that we’ve never seen before, so I was immediately attracted to this difference in character and the feel of it.

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Zoe Renee as Summer in Jinn (Orion Classics)

From what I saw, the character is an aspiring dancer. Do you have a dance background as well?
I do! I’ve been taking hip hop classics for quite sometime now. What’s beautiful about Summer is that she’s the type to do hip hop and ballet and it was very cool to experience that. It was so much fun and I got to work with great directors who got me into boot camps that tested my knowledge of the different genres, but it was a fun experience.

What was it like to work with writer/director Nijla Mu’min and were you able to bring in some of your own input in bringing the character of Summer to life?
It was amazing! She was great to work with. It was great to work with a female director and the project was so close to her heart. She gave me the ability to explore, but she also made it clear about what she wanted. She gave me the confidence in the choices that I made, but she also gave me a clear path of the choices that I could and couldn’t do, like those that didn’t make sense. She was extreme thorough with my conversion into the Muslim religion. She was very patient with me and made me feel comfortable with this movement into the culture. I felt at home, I never felt anything that made me uncomfortable. We had a great set of women, including the producers. I felt just great!

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Zoe Renee as Summer and Simone Missick as Jade in Jinn (Orion Classics)

Many will know Simone Missick for her role as Misty Knight in the Marvel series Luke Cage and Iron Fist. Your chemistry with her was a major factor in the film. What was she like on the set?
She was definitely a true calling for me. She is one of the most important people in my life. We met during the casting process but we didn’t have many days together. So when we did get together on the set, we had to be very tightrope. We wanted the chemistry to be on point. Because of a lack of time, we had to really get it going and not mess around too much. I hope people will get that when they see the film. They can see we had this fun, genuine, and important. I just love her to death!

The film’s topics of identity and religion are very important in the film as they helped bring that realism to the film. What stands out is that we are not given a generalization of religion and identity, but seeing everything from all perspectives and this makes it a very important film for people to see. Would you agree with that?
Absolutely! I don’t know any other film that has tackled this subject with the African-American Muslim girl. It’s something we haven’t seen before and seeing the film will bring to light the culture, and the kind of religion. And what it means for a 17-year old African-American girl who is at the peak of her developmental phase and she’s trying to figure out what the heck is going on. I think it’s fully great. I wish it was something I had experienced growing up and I am hoping that 17, 18, 19-year olds and up get to see this film and get the freedom to ask and be free.

Did you experience any difficulties while making the film in terms of shooting?
Besides the timing, no. We had 18 days and I’m terrible with organizational things. But, I had a cast and crew who were very patient with me. We were pushing it and making sure it got done. With indie films, you have to do what you gotta do. That could include eating fast or eat on the way to the set. It’s not always convenient, but it was fun and it is an honest film so I hope people will get to see it.

Finally, are there any new projects in the works?
Yes! I have Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase coming out next summer. Of course, it’s based on the books most of us had read as kids. It’s about three girls and I play George and It’s Sophie Lillis is playing Nancy. They go to the city and wreak havoc but also have to save the world. It’s definitely a fun summer movie so I can’t wait for everyone to see it.

Jinn comes to select theaters, VOD, and Digital HD on November 16. I think this is a very important film that all people should check out to get a full understanding of the relationships between identity and religion. Thank you again Zoe for talking about the film.
Thank you so much!

A Special Thank You goes to Katrina Wan PR and Zoe Renee for making this interview possible.

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