Director's Cut: Nijla Mu’min - Breaking Barriers in Cinema

Step into the captivating world of this visionary storyteller.

Welcome to "Director's Cut," where we delve into the lives and works of visionary filmmakers who have left a mark on the world of cinema. In this installment, we spotlight the remarkable Nijla Mu’min, a rising star in the film industry whose talent and storytelling prowess have captivated audiences far and wide.

Nijla Mu’min, a gifted director, writer, and producer, has become a refreshing voice in contemporary cinema. Drawing from her experiences and cultural heritage, the Bay Area native fearlessly confronts complex themes, exploring the intricacies of identity, family dynamics, and the human spirit. Her films are both a celebration of diversity and a call for empathy, challenging us to reflect on our shared humanity. From her groundbreaking 2018 film "Jinn" to her current work on the Apple TV+ series "Swagger, which is currently in season two, Mu’min's cinematic footprint grows with each captivating project she directs.

BET: When did you first fall in love with films?

Nijla Mu’min: When my father went to take me to see “Malcolm X” at Grand Lake Theatre in Oakland. That's a historic movie theater, and I was raised Muslim. As a young child, seeing how the audience really responded to the film and to Denzel’s performance, and to Spike Lee's direction. People were crying, laughing and cheering – and just so moved. I think at that point, I knew I wanted to have that type of impact on people through art, even if I didn't know exactly what I was going to do. That movie was such a significant part of my development as an artist, and also the autobiography of “Malcolm X.” That showed me I was going to follow that path.

BET: You delve into your identities in your work, which you did in the film “Jinn” as a Black Muslim girl. Talk to us about the importance of exploring the intersection of your identities in your work.

Nijla Mu’min: For me, I was living that experience. I came of age within that African American Muslim community, but at the same time, I was in a public school and exposed to everything. I was really into pop culture and R&B, and the latest styles, wearing halter tops and just wanting to express myself in ways that sometimes would clash with the religious community. I wanted to really show the complexity of that type of existence for a black girl because I was living it. And I feel like I had never seen complicated Black Muslims in a contemporary movie. I had to tell this story because it's a story that I have never seen before. And I don't think a lot of people have seen from the eyes of a black girl who is not just Muslim but is so many things existing in our society. I think it's important to humanize Black women and Black girls in that way.

BET: You are currently directing for the Apple TV+ show “Swagger,” loosely based on Kevin Durant. For folks who may not know, tell us about “Swagger.”

Nijla Mu’min: It’s about family. It's about relationships and finding your way as a young person when life seems like a maze. The maze is a theme that's really important to the show. Each episode is called a maze, and it sees these teenage characters and their family members really trying to navigate the impossible. Basketball is definitely the foundation, but it's the human relationships and the relationships between the teammates and the family members that really make the show moving. It has a love story component between two of the main characters, Crystal and Jace. The maze that I directed really pushes into that love story. These two characters have been friends since they were young, and they're both basketball players. We are able to see their relationship grow over the course of the seasons. Once it gets to the episode I directed, it's just a really beautiful moment for them.

BET: What are your thoughts about writers' strike, especially in streaming, because you do work in streaming?

Nijla Mu’min: I just got back from picketing, actually. I'm passionate that we deserve to be paid fairly. We put so much work as writers into these stories. These stories can't exist without our lives, without our worlds, our trauma – I think there's been kind of a devaluing of that craft that pushes these bigger companies to take so long to step back to the table and really acknowledge the hard work that people put in. I'm really passionate; I've been out on the picket line since day one. I'm hoping that it's over; people's lives are really being affected. I have friends who have to find work; they don't have any other way to work. I really hope it ends soon because it's getting to a point where people are worried about their livelihood, especially a lot of black writers and writers of color who don't come from wealth. It can be very scary to be without a job right now.

BET: We are all the directors of our own life. What does the director's cut of your life and your journey in Hollywood look like thus far?

Nijla Mu’min: The director's cut looks like this young girl in Oakland at dance class, going home to read a novel, watching “Coming to America,” and following her dreams of being an artist, picking up a camera for her first time in college at UC Berkeley and making her short film on an Oak Lane Street corner at night. [Laughs] That's my director's cut of my journey.

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