Nijla Mumin delivers with Jinn a remarkable debut film. The partly autobiographical scenario, written by herself, is admittedly lacking. Main objection: The motives of characters sometimes remain vague and quite contradictory. As a result, the film takes a few incoherent turns that are especially confusing. But on the other hand there is originality, visual inventiveness and excellent acting; newcomer Zoe Renee in the lead role is a discovery.
Renee plays Summer, a 17-year-old girl who loves dancing and pizza. She finds herself in an awkward split when her mother converts to Islam. Does she want to follow her mother in her newfound faith? Or would she rather continue her old, free life?
Mumin made a film about the role of Islam in an African-American environment, which for once is not about radicalization and extremism. Summer also grapples with an interesting issue: when will she be more externally steered: if she would conform to the norms and views of the mosque, or if she let herself be uncritically shaped by the dominant values of the popular culture she grew up with? It is not self-evident that she is ‘freer’ in the latter scenario than in the world of the mosque.
Jinn touches on that dilemma, but often rather fleetingly. Elements of a conservative and liberal interpretation of Islam have been mixed up in an inconsistent manner.
Mumin may just be messing up too much by turning Summer’s mother into a career woman—she’s a popular meteorologist at a television station—who suddenly shows up at work wearing a headscarf. That fact alone could have made for a good film. Combined with Summer’s quest for her place in the world, it’s too much. But Nijla Mumin is definitely a filmmaker to keep an eye on.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC on the morning of January 19, 2022