Most people know Jazz Jennings from her TV show on TLC, I Am Jazz. But with her upcoming starring role in the film Denim, she is hoping to gain her footing in the world of narrative storytelling, while providing visibility for important subjects.
Denim was written, and will be directed by, Daryen Ru, who was inspired to create the project after the Trump administration changed their stance on the Bathroom Ban from a nationwide issue to statewide. This switch began forcing transgender individuals in certain states to use the bathroom of the gender named on their birth certificate, versus the gender with which they identify. The producers of Denim (Kofi Carson & Naomi Pandolfi) have just begun fundraising to make the film happen, so please see the link for the fundraiser video & how to donate. You’ll be helping make a difference in the journey towards equality for all. To help spread the word about Denim, please check out @denimthefilm & #denimthefilm on Instagram.
Jazz is a 17-year-old, transgender teen who dedicates her words and actions to the importance of equality, with an emphasis on those in the transgender community. Below is Jazz’s exclusive interview about the Denim film.
DR: What is the film Denim about?
JJ: Denim tells the story of a teenage girl – named Micayla – (played by myself) who is transgender and not allowed to use the girls’ restroom. When going into the boy’s bathroom stall, a guy takes a picture of her that is sent around the school. Ultimately it focuses on themes of human rights, bullying, and the discrimination faced by the trans community.
DR: Why is this film important?
JJ: This film is important because it displays how transgender people are affected by bathroom bills that ban us
from using the restroom that corresponds with our gender identity. It is important to see that the trans community is harmed by these discriminatory laws – not anyone else – and that it is a violation of our fundamental human rights.
DR: How do you personally connect with this film?
JJ: I can personally connect with this film because I was banned from using the girls’ bathroom for over 5 years at my elementary school. I was told to use the nurse’s restroom where I felt like I was being isolated from the other students. I would end up peeing my pants because I didn’t want to use the nurse’s bathroom. One day I snuck into the girl’s restroom only to get caught by the school librarian. This was the first time that I felt like I was being treated unfairly just for being transgender; I was only in second grade.
DR: How has the bathroom ban impacted your life?
JJ: While the bathroom ban hasn’t personally affected me, it’s an attack on my community that I can’t tolerate. I have many friends who are not allowed to use their corresponding bathroom and they end up avoiding the restroom altogether. The school environment is supposed to be an educational place of learning but instead I have friends who sit in discomfort all day. An attack on one is an attack on all and that’s how I’ve been affected.
DR: What personal challenges will there be bringing this script to life?
JJ: Bringing this script to life is definitely going to be a challenge because I feel a responsibility to represent all of the unheard voices of transgender youth. So many kids have been in the position that my character will be in and I want to be able to bring their story to life so that others can witness the injustices we endure.
DR: Do you think that acting out the content will have an effect on you?
JJ: Acting this out is certainly going to have an effect on me emotionally. It’s hard to know that so many trans youth like myself suffer all the time. Up to 50% of trans kids will attempt suicide by the time they reach 21; this statistic is going to constantly be ingrained in my head for I know that the bullying my character is experiencing is often one of the causes that creates that statistic.
DR: What is the social relevance of this film?
JJ: This film obviously has social relevance as we’ve all witness the constant discrimination that the trans community faces. The new administration rescinded Obama’s directive that protected transgender youth and then there was the horrendous military ban. Overall, these problems need to be addressed because it’s completely unfair to target a community in this way.
DR: What’s going to surprise people about this film?
JJ: I think people will be surprised to see that the bathroom bans are actually enacted and affect so many individuals. I think people hear about problems but don’t always care because it doesn’t affect them directly. I hope that this film can open people’s eyes to the intolerance that the transgender community endures and they will be inspired to take action in order to protect our community. It’s hard to be transgender because the world is always judging us just for trying to live our lives authentically. I wish that we could just have the freedom to be who we are without having to worry about bullying and discrimination.
Daryen Ru is a NYC-based writer and filmmaker.
Ru has been hired to write countless film scripts, TV pilots and commercials. Ru has also independently created films that have been in festivals across the globe. One of Ru’s greatest interests in writing is to put the reader or viewer in someone else’s shoes whose life seems quite foreign to them. In doing so, Ru hopes to open mindsets and make people filled with wonder.
What inspired you to create this film?
Once North Carolina officially integrated the Bathroom Ban, it became painfully clear to me that and the injustices would continue to spread. Passing these discriminatory laws then gives civilians a sense of authority to mistreat the individuals who are already so disenfranchised. It is a domino effect based on propaganda and a widespread misunderstanding. In short, I’d say I was inspired to create Denim because I was furious. I am now committed to educating the masses on the basic principles of human rights.
How did you decide that Jazz Jennings was the perfect fit to play the lead role?
Jazz doesn’t only understand the story that Denim is telling, she’s living it. She knows what it’s like to not be allowed to use the bathroom matching her gender, what it’s like to be ostracized, how it feels to be bullied. She is also able to express herself immaculately. I’ve never met a 17-year-old who can articulate, so clearly, the obscurities of the governmental system and the reasons why people do the horrific things they do. She is also incredibly strong, grounded, and relatable. With all of that said, she’s the perfect person to play Micayla in Denim – because in many ways, she is Micayla.
What was your initial reaction when you received positive feedback from Jazz and her management?
It all felt right. With the eagerness and approval from Jazz’s end, it was reassurance that Denim matters and needs to be made.
Tell us about your experience filming with Jazz?
Jazz is incredible to work with. I had the chance to travel to Florida for two days with my cinematographer, Kofi Carson, to do some filming with Jazz, and she was down for just about anything. She and I spent 30 minutes in freezing cold water while filming her majestic mermaid tricks. She also did back-flips (literally) to make some beautiful shots happen. It was inspiring to be in her presence. She is full of life and busy at any given moment making up songs, displaying her amazing singing voice, and doing funny voices– she’s hilarious. I can’t wait to shoot the film with her. I’m also eager to see what path she decides to take in her life – she can do anything.
Why are you passionate about advocating for trans rights?
Being a queer individual myself, I know what it is like to not be treated equally, and how frightening it can feel to be different. I want to stand up for not only the tolerance of the LGBTQIA+ community, but that of true acceptance and inclusion for anyone who has ever felt like an outsider.
Has your passion grown due to the current political landscape?
Undoubtedly. I first thought it was preposterous when the Bathroom Ban came into effect and I continue to be appalled at how the transgender population is targeted by the current administration. I then felt a sense of devastation at the reality of it all, which made me think I had to concede under the laws. But thankfully, I became angry with discontentment. From that, a fire was ignited within me to be where I am now, creating Denim.
I was incredibly excited to learn about Danica Roem’s history-making election recently. What were you feeling when you found out?
Ecstatic. What made me most excited about Roem’s victory is not simply that she is a transgender female, but that she won over the man who pushed for the Bathroom Ban in schools in the first place. That, to me, is a win in and of itself.
What do you think are the most important things that people need to learn in order to start understanding and accepting our trans brothers and sisters?
It’s quite simple. We are all mere humans and 99.9% the same down to our DNA. I think it’s time we start acting like it.
What do you hope to achieve with the release of Denim?
I hope people who don’t understand or simply disagree with the importance of trans rights reconsider their standpoint. Denim could be telling the story of their child, grandchild, sibling, cousin, neighbor, etc., maybe just in a different way. And for those who do agree and understand the importance of trans rights, I hope they are reminded of how imperative it is that progress is made and a fire is ignited within them to work harder for equality.
Is there anything you’d like to say to someone who is undecided about donating towards your fundraising?
By donating, people aren’t solely donating to Denim , they are helping to raise awareness of trans rights, equality, human rights, bullying, and activism within the current political and social climate. This is a chance to tell the stories of countless transgender individuals from the past and present, and to hopefully change their stories to a more positive light in the future. This is a movement for social justice.
After Denim’s release, do you have any other activism focused projects ahead?
Indeed. I have a choreographed dance piece on mental health issues called -7 . I am taking my training from the School of American Ballet and combining it with my personal experience with mental health to a choreograph a dance piece. I feel as though ballet has often been used to show a simplistic, generic sort of beauty, and has ignored most real-life topics. This piece combines the beauty in the movement of ballet with the characteristic traits of mental health issues to raise awareness and reduce stigma. I’m also planning to make documentaries on other topics close to my heart, including inequities in healthcare and animal cruelty.
You can donate to the fundraising page for Denim the Film here.