A breakout indie film produced by a Clayton State University film professor debuted this spring at the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival and recently earned several major film awards.
Assistant Film Professor Shandra McDonald served as an executive producer of the film Jinn, which won Best Narrative Feature Screenplay and the NBC Spotlight Actor Award at the American Black Film Festival.
McDonald join the film project as an assistant producer through Avril Speaks, a close friend and producer of the film. She was able to secure investors for the film based on the talent of the director, Nijla Mu’min. McDonald’s efforts allowed her to be promoted to executive producer, the first time she’s held that position in her 20-year filmmaking career.
“I'm proud of Nijla and Avril for what they have accomplished in the making of the film. It's a testament of their mastery of the craft that they were able to produce the film for such a low budget,” McDonald said. “There are million-dollar films that don't look as good as JINN or resonate as emotionally as JINN. We are all serious filmmakers who want to be making movies for a long time. Nijla directed an episode of Queen Sugar for the upcoming season. Ava (Duvernay) chose her for an episode on the strength of her portfolio, especially JINN.”
Jinn is a coming-of-age tale about a girl named Summer, who McDonald describes as a “a 17-year old shape-shifting, pepperoni-loving, black teenage Instagram celebrity whose world is turned upside down when her mother, a popular meteorologist named Jade, abruptly converts to Islam and becomes a different person, prompting Summer to reevaluate her identity.”
The film explores themes of race, religion, and gender identity.
“Coming of age stories are my favorite because they are timeless. Social media puts so much pressure on young people and their self-esteem is constantly being challenged,” McDonald says. “The journey that Summer takes is a painful one to watch at times, but her triumph is always refreshing. So many young people can relate to her experiences in the film and the other characters around her. I’ve seen the film several times now, but I never get tired of watching it. The messaging is powerful!”
McDonald involved her student’s in her work on the film, sharing her experiences on set when the film was shot a few years ago in Los Angeles to the recent film screenings.
“I share these accomplishments with them because I want them to know that they too can accomplish what we have done. Avril and Nijla started out making short films,” McDonald says. “I started this way as well. The pathway to success for filmmakers through short films is real! I would never be able to find investors had it not been for their earlier portfolio. I'm also pretty good at pitching!”
McDonald says she, along with her colleagues in the Visual and Performing Arts department, work collaboratively to prepare students for the film industry, including everything from having an eye for good filmmaking to nuances of production, style, and vision.
“Faculty members in the Visual and Performing Arts, like Ms. Shandra McDonald, are highly engaged in the community and with their professions,” said Dr. Mark May, chair of the Visual and Performing Arts department. “Having faculty members with real-world experience benefits the students tremendously as they prepare for their own careers.
The award that Ms. McDonald won reflects her exceptional talent and her knowledge of the best practices in the film industry. The Film Production Program, which began in 2015, has already proven to be a home for awards like the Best Narrative Feature Screenplay from the American Back Film Festival, not only for faculty members, but also for students who are entering their work in competitions and aspire to win prestigious awards, like Ms. McDonald.”
Learn more about Jinn at the film’s official website.