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An Interview with 'Jasmine Is A Star' Writer and Director, Jo Rochelle

During the 2023 Atlanta Film Festival, we had the opportunity to screen "Jasmine Is A Star," and interview the film's writer and director, Jo Rochelle

"Jasmine Is A Star," is a teen coming of age story, about a 16-year-old (Iyana Le'Shea) with albinism (lack of pigmentation in the hair, skin, and/or eyes) determined to become a professional model in her hometown of Minneapolis, while attempting to go unnoticed in every other aspect of her teenage life. Jasmine explores what independence looks like, and more importantly, self-acceptance look like.

"Jasmine Is A Star," stars Iyana Le'Shea, Sha Cage, Kevin West.

Jo Rochelle is a screenwriter and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, California known for her short "Sirens" which screened at several festivals, including the Pan African Film Festival, where it was nominated for Best Narrative Short. She wrote for the online network Black & Sexy TV, directed the pilot presentation "Late Expectations" and her web series "Black Student Union" was created for Issa Rae's HOORAE Media. Jo Rochelle's recent feature, "Jasmine Is A Star," won Best Narrative Feature, at the Sidewalk Film Festival, received an honorable mention in the Dance with Films Festival and is currently touring the film festival circuit. Jo is currently a writer for the "Good Trouble" on Freeform.

Watch the trailer here:

Jo Rochelle shares more about who she is and how she got her start in filmmaking.

"I’m originally from Minneapolis, a city with a rich history of wonderful theater. My high school often took trips to see various plays and musicals, and I performed a lot as a student. The first female director I ever saw was Mrs. Landis, my drama teacher. Being directed by her in elementary school and then again as a high schooler was incredibly empowering. I fell in love with storytelling and went to NYU for Drama. During my senior year of college, I realized that I was more drawn to writing and directing than I was to acting, so I co-created a web series with my friend, which was a crash course in filmmaking."

Atlanta Film and TV: What inspired you to direct Jasmine Is A Star?

Jo Rochelle: "I wanted to tell a story that took place in my hometown of Minneapolis and was loosely based on my experiences as a young black girl growing up in pageants and modeling. I had created several web series and a short, by this point, and I felt ready to tackle my first feature."

"Jasmine Is A Star" Cast and Crew at Dances with Films Festival, 2022

Atlanta Film and TV: Iyana Le'Shea was cast perfectly for the role of Jasmine. I enjoyed how you showed her modeling footage at the end of the film. Is this story based on her life as a model, or a story in general that you wanted to tell about a person with albinism overcoming rejection in the fashion industry?

Jo Rochelle: At some point during the development of the script, I realized that I wanted the main character of Jasmine to have albinism. I came across Iyanna's YouTube channel, and

felt like she would be perfect for the role. Iyana and I have similar backgrounds, similar family support, and there's a lot of overlap in our stories. The Story of 'Jasmine Is A Star' is mostly based on my experiences growing up. I used to model when I was a teenager do small local campaigns, attended modeling school, and participated in pageants. The scene where Jasmine's mother tells her a story about running a race is my mother's actual story she's told me many times. During the post production process, I had the idea of adding some of Iyana's actual modeling videos, as a way of celebrating her and extending the journey of the character of Jasmine.

Atlanta Film and TV: How did you approach the unique experiences and challenges of a character with albinism in the film?

Jo Rochelle: "Once I knew the main character of the film would have albinism, I spent a lot of time researching the condition, and making sure the script portrayed it accurately and realistically. I had ongoing conversations with the Executive Director of NOAH (National Organizations for Albinism and Hyperpigmentation.) It became my goal to not only have people with albinism in front of the camera, but behind it as well. One of our makeup artists, Jennifer Renee, was a fabulous addition to our crew. And when it was time for the movie to be test screened, we showed it to a variety of people, including people with albinism."

Atlanta Film and TV: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced during the film process, and how did you overcome them?

Jo Rochelle: "The biggest challenge was working with our limited budget, which meant we had to film multiple pages a day. Working at a fast pace wasn't easy, but we were lucky to have plenty of rehearsal time at our locations before filming. So before production started, we already knew what shots we were going to get and the actors had already rehearsed the blocking - which was a real timesaver!"

Atlanta Film and TV: What message do you hope people take away from the film particularly in terms of representation and inclusivity in the fashion industry?

Jo Rochelle: "Ideally, I want people to walk away from the film feeling inspired. The message of the movie is to never give up, and don't ask for permission. If you have a dream keep pursuing it. Especially when it comes to a dream in a cutthroat industry, like fashion. It's important that we put our own content out there in the world, so people can find us and be inspired - like Iyanna does in her real life with her Instagram and YouTube channel."

Atlanta Film and TV: What was the most rewarding part of directing this film?

Jo Rochelle: " Being on the film festival circuit with my cast and crew, and hearing audience reactions has been incredibly rewarding. There were times when it felt impossible to make this movie, due to our limited budget, but the journey has been completely worth it."

Atlanta Film and TV: What advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers, particularly those who are passionate about promoting diversity and inclusion in their work?

Joe Rochelle: " Ask yourself, 'what do I have right now?' Seriously, sit back and take stock of the resources you currently have and start creating content from there. Think through all your friends, and the talents they possess, and all the abilities that are within your reach. Then, use those resources to fulfill the dream that is in your heart."

Atlanta Film and TV: Do you have anything else you would like to share about yourself, or 'Jasmine Is A Star?'

Jo Rochelle: "You can keep up with our film on Instagram @jasminestarmovie and on our film website at!"

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