We speak to director Daryen Ru and Jennings about why these stories need telling
Since its premiere in New York earlier this year, writer slash director Daryen Ru’s new film Denim has generated significant hype. Already picked up by Innovative Artists to be developed as a feature (possibly a series), the movie tells the story of a teenage trans girl (Dazed cover star Jazz Jennings) in high school, who is outed by a vengeful classmate, after using a female bathroom. Although politically loaded, Ru describes the picture as more than a protest flick.
“Denim emphasises that transgender people are people too” said Ru, regarding her film’s message. “Regardless of all of the ways that we try to categorise, label, and divide people, at the end of the day, we are all humans and want the same things. Love and acceptance.”
Denim is not only a trans story, but an underdog story; an outsider story; a story you’d hope that most can relate to.
Jazz Jennings is the trans, female actress who plays the protagonist, Micayla. She believes that the film’s universal message of acceptance can move conversations around trans rights forward.
“I know that Denim is going to make a difference” says Jennings. “Even if one transgender individual shares information about their life with a few people, it helps. Placing the spotlight on how ignorance and cruelty can affect a teenager, will open some eyes for sure, and hopefully create awareness.”
Daryen Ru conceived the idea for the movie at the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency in 2016. Infuriated by the president’s perceived discrimination of the LGBTQIA+ community, Ru was able to lock the script quickly and begin fundraising. Helped by high profile supporters of the movie such as Sir Ian McKellan, Max Emerson and Jazz Jennings herself, the film received enough funding to begin production last summer.
“Fundraising was the hardest part of making the film” adds Ru. “We had approximately 70 cast and crew members, of which 80 per cent worked for free, simply because they were passionate about the project, and saw the importance of it.”
“I am so thankful for each of those people for donating their valuable time, to show their support for transgender rights. It gave me a bit of hope in humanity, honestly.”
Denim follows the story of fifteen year old trans teenager Micayla, whose life is turned upside down when a classmate “outs” her. Being a trans teenager herself, it was a role that came naturally to Jazz Jennings, who in recent years has risen to prominence through her reality TV show I Am Jazz. “Playing a transgender teenager, it’s obviously something I’m very familiar with. I know what it’s like to feel different from everyone else, yet, I’ve always flipped that scenario by turning it into something positive” said Jennings.
“I think any teenager, transgender or not, would be humiliated if a picture of them peeing was distributed around school, but since Micayla is dysphoric and stealth, she’s even more devastated than a cis person would be.”
Daryen Ru – who not only writes and directs the film, but acts in it too – is an ardent advocate and supporter of the LGBTQIA+ community, and believes there needs to be more stories like hers in the public sphere.
“It’s necessary,” she says. “It’s past due time that these stories are told so that people can learn from their hardships and recognize the injustice that is being placed on these minorities. Denim emphasises that transgender people deserve to feel safe, protected, and equal to everyone else.”
Denim goes some way to illustrate the very real, human stories behind the various trans conversations raging in the media. Trans narratives aren’t just tweets or debates in the pub. There are real-life consequences for trans people from public dialogue around these issues, affecting their employment, healthcare, and legal status.
Although Denim’s target audience is the LGBQTIA+ community and its supporters, the film is for anyone that wants to learn about the experience of being a trans teenager.
“For people that aren’t familiar with the trans experience at all, it gives them an insight into that reality” added Ru. “Maybe not everyone can directly relate to lead character Micayla’s experiences, but they should be able to understand that innate human desire for acceptance.”
“Stories create change,” says Jennings. “It’s not only the bathrooms. The discrimination and bigotry (against the trans community) is getting worse. Hopefully Denim can promote empathy and understanding”.