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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."