When I first met actor, model, and musician Jasmine Davis, I was immediately affected by her tiny stature, coy glance, and shy demeanor. And while I am used to actors not resembling the characters they portray on screen, the total transformation from Imani, the strong-willed powerhouse we see on Showtime’s The Chi struck me. I knew immediately her shyness did not come from fragility, it came from the quiet, powerful calm of someone who has been through a lot and seen it all.
The Chi is a visceral, coming-of-age drama, centered around the mostly Black community that resides in Chicago’s South Side and deals with consequences that arise from racial inequality and the impact of drugs, lack of access to higher education and mental health services, political duress, police brutality, and family violence. It is not a show for the weak of heart. Truthfully, the first few episodes made me feel like a foreigner in this world as depicted through the eyes of a community I have been called to support, but never completely grasping the full scope of issues affecting another minority community. I found myself binging all four seasons, engrossed by the stories of these interconnecting lives.
While I will never pretend to know the full extent of the struggles of the Black community, there are similarities to the hopes and dreams and treatment by others that my own minority community has fallen victim to. Suddenly the world didn’t seem so foreign to me. The show has become a critical and viewer hit for Showtime, with Season 5 on the horizon. Just like we want the eyes on our LGBTQ-driven media, our community must support other minority-driven projects. But should we be labeling shows according to their minority makeup, whether it be that “gay show” or that “Black show?”
There’s a simple answer, yet not so simple. First, we need to keep making minority-focused shows in a non-stereotypical but more human and universal way, because we all have similarities. We may not come from the same upbringing or have the same belief systems but, for the most part, many of us all want the same thing – to be heard and seen in some matter and to love and be loved.
One aspect that I couldn’t get used to, was the constant use of the N-word, whether it be as used in jest, affection, or as an insult. The continued use of derogatory terms used for the LGBTQ community has often been discussed among our group. What is Jasmine’s take?
It’s not a question of why it is okay for this word to be used in every scene, but why it gets used at all. That reason is because Black people have taken a word that was used to degrade them and used it to empower themselves and express how prideful it is to be Black in America.
Jasmine joined the show in Season 3 but is no stranger to the world of The Chi. She grew up on the streets of the Chicago, being witness to the crime wars, drive-bys, and even addiction in her own family at a very early age. As her character Imani, she brings the heart and support system to the family her character has created with her drug dealer boyfriend. She’s a badass, she’s unapologetic, she’s a goddess. It isn’t until mid-season that we find out that Imani is trans. It is done quietly but effectively. Show creator and Emmy Award Winner Lena Waithe had wanted to include a trans character from the beginning of Season 1 and was excited to bring Jasmine on and finally realize that diversity on her own show. Lena’s goal was to reveal the character as part of the norm, without pointing the finger or creating a bombastic reveal. Imani is a real person who happens to be trans. As the character developed, Jasmine knew she had to come out. Early in her childhood, she knew she was different but also knew that she would have to pass as a cis woman in order to survive the streets.
Her coming out was swallowed up by the media with every interview or press coverage calling attention to Jasmine’s being the first out trans actor on The Chi playing the first trans character on the show. She was immediately made an activist and spokesperson for the trans community when in reality she wanted to talk about her acting, her character development, her craft.
I am grateful when I get to inspire anyone in any way that adds and brings love and light to this world. But I never asked to be a spokesperson. It was forced on me unknowingly. I just wanted to be an actor, yet I understand there’s a certain responsibility in being an influencer, and I use the word “influencer” because celebrities in the entertainment world were the original influencers. However, there’s becoming a thinner line between arts and politics, and some of this is used for good, but there’s a dark side to it. That’s what we as artists must make sure of – that being an influencer is not used for the wrong reasons. Coming out during COVID was a complete nightmare. I was very scared for many reasons. Yet, it helped me grow as a human, and some of the lessons I’ve learned – and am still learning – are priceless. Sooner or later, someone was going to out me anyway – I just beat them to the punch. [Laughs]
As an artist and a storyteller, Jasmine took charge of her character making the role of Imani a collaboration with the show’s creative team. What comes across the most in chatting with Jasmine is how much affection she has for Imani. During the process, creator Waithe has become Jasmine’s mentor and friend. The positive response for Jasmine’s character has been immense, due partly to the loving relationship she and co-star Luke James have presented – they are a couple in love, nothing more. As part of the character list of The Chi, it proves that you can’t represent a community or talk about women without showing all individuals from those communities.
Jasmine’s life has been full of creative evolutions. She’s been a hairdresser, studied cosmetology, has worked as a model for several years, and graduated from the University of Southern California with a BA in Sociology minoring in Gender Studies. She also spent time learning improv at Second City where, despite being the only minority in her class, broke out of her bubble, coming into her own and working through her dyslexia.
I would say to anyone who is blessed to have dyslexia, look at it as a gift. I say that because some of the most successful people in the world have or had dyslexia, like Richard Branson, Tom Cruise, Leonardo Da Vinci, Walt Disney, Whoopi Goldberg, Albert Einstein, and Guy Ritchie, to name a few.
Even with the success of The Chi, Jasmine knows that being part of the entertainment isn’t without its flaws. After coming to Hollywood and receiving a series of “no’s,” she was destined to play transgender superhero Dreamer in CW’s Supergirl. That was going to be her coming out. One audition away, she learned that the role ultimately went to someone else. If she were to base a television show on her own life?
I would call it “Imperfections.” I really don’t think life is meant to ever be perfect as there are no lessons in perfection. In my opinion, the lesson is in the journey and the journey is the lesson.
She has used her creativity during downtime between seasons to release a clothing line, Saint J’s Brand, made of sustainable items that celebrates diversity. She has also released her first single “BLISS” under her pop artist alter ego JAS-ZEY for her EP Never Give Up.
I come from a family of musicians and singers, and I started writing pop songs at the age of 12. I never did anything with it until now, but the desire was always there. You get to see different aspects of my personality, like how three-dimensional I am, and I can be seen in more ways than one.
So, what’s next for this entertainment chameleon?
We will just have to wait and see. I know where I want to go, and I know it’s more than possible to get to the level I’m working toward. The real question is how soon I get to the next level, so I can get to another level, and so on. Also, as you probably know, my agent and manager don’t allow me to talk about pending projects but believe me, we have some exciting things on the horizon!
You can follow Jasmine on Instagram @theJasmineDavis
Last modified: January 5, 2022