Actress Jasmine Davis has a past history with Chicago, Illinois that continues into the future. Growing up in the Windy City has certainly paid off for the transgender performer throughout her career.
After attending Kenwood High School, she pursued further education with the Artistic Home theater group and also at The Second City, the world-renowned comedy and improvisation school.
Davis then moved to Los Angeles, only to be led back to Chicago with the role of Imani on the Showtime original drama The Chi. The series was created by out producer/actress Lena Waithe with a story that follows a group of residents in the South Side of the city.
Davis discussed her important breakthrough role on The Chi and transgender rights during a recent phone interview.
Windy City Times: Hi, Jasmine. You are originally from Chicago?
Jasmine Davis: Yes, I grew up near Kenwood High School in Hyde Park.
WCT: Did you always want to be a performer?
JD: I wanted to be many things, I must say [laughs]. I got my taste for performing in school. It sparked an interest in me to play different characters. I had a broad imagination that would run wild. It was always interesting to me to step in someone else's shoes. I used to people watch and imagine what their world would be like to live in.
WCT: Were you cast on The Chi while still living in Chicago?
JD: No. I had been living in LA for almost 10 years before getting the role. I wound up coming back to Chicago to film.
WCT: Do you have time to see family and friends while filming in Chicago?
JD: I don't usually have tons of time, but I always see my best friend and sister when in town.
It was better before COVID, when I could hang out in the city. It was fun in 2019 to see everyone.
WCT: Imani is not your first trans role. I read you were in a show called L.A.'s Finest before The Chi.
JD: Yes, my first trans role was on L.A.'s Finest and the third trans role I had auditioned for. I had auditioned for a transgender character on Supergirl and came very close to getting that part. I'm glad I didn't get it, because I wouldn't be able to do The Chi if that had happened.
WCT: You came out as trans publicly after The Chi aired?
JD: Yes. When L.A.'s Finest aired someone asked if I was going to get heat for playing the role, because a lot of people in LA didn't know about me being trans.
I wasn't ready to come out, even though I had done these roles. That was me dipping my feet in the water to see how I felt about it. Once I got The Chi, I knew there was no hiding after that!
WCT: Several cast members from FX's Pose expressed to me that they would like to play cis women as well as trans women. Do you feel that way?
JD: The thing with me is that I have already played cisgender roles. I've done commercials. I've played moms and even a pregnant woman.
The transgender roles were actually new for me. Once I came out, I felt I was being pigeonholed for about a year after that. I was frustrated. That was why I wasn't going to take the role on The Chi at first. I was about done with the industry. I was going to go back to commercial modeling and print work.
WCT: What advice would you give others after facing these challenging hurdles?
JD: Sometimes the industry loses its imagination once they have certain information about you. I was always fighting a hurdle of being in a box. Especially if you are a woman of color, there will be even more of a fight with people who will try to box you in. If that is what you want, then great, but if not, speak up every time! If you don't, it's going to be a problem on a personal level.
One problem I had in the past was accepting the fact that we live in a world where information is vital. Whatever you aren't comfortable with, learn to be comfortable with it, because it will eventually come to light. Own yourself, love yourself, know your worth and be true to who you are. No matter who you are or where you are from, you can do this. If you can be true to who you are, then it will make your life better.
WCT: Explain your character Imani on The Chi, for people who don't know her yet.
JD: She's such a badass! Imani is transgender. She is unapologetic about who she is. What I love mostly about her is her ability to convey emotions. She's loving, fierce and feisty. She's tough, but nurturing. You will see her navigating these different emotions in the new season.
I love how she is loyal.
WCT: Yes, I noticed on several episodes that she is always standing by her man, Trig.
JD: We show up at people's houses together to confront them about things. I don't know if I would do that in real life!
WCT: Does The Chi feel like a safe space with Lena Waithe being attached to it?
JD: Yes. I feel I can go to Lena with any drama or problems.
The character of Imani has made me more vocal about the things I want or don't want. Lena also helps me with that because she is a big advocate for LGBT rights. We speak all the time and have a friendship. It is great to know I have someone like her rooting for me!
WCT: The Chi is so well written, in part, thanks to her. The scene where Imani said to her boyfriend that if he doesn't love the LGBT community, then he can't love you, made me want to cry.
JD: That gave me chills. I actually did cry a few times. We had to cut when I was very emotional about it.
WCT: We need more scenes like that depicted on the screen.
JD: I totally agree with you. Because I know who Lena is, I wasn't surprised. Lena told me I would be fine when I was still on a trial run for Showtime. If I had come in and not connected with the writing, then I wouldn't have done the show.
Having Lena in the writers room gave our community a light and a presence.
WCT: Speaking of our community, what are your thoughts on the the recent anti-trans legislation?
JD: First of all, people have to understand that everyone is human. If we can agree on that, then maybe people can start being more empathetic. We waste so much taxpayer money on bills that people don't even understand.
The trans community is simply asking for basic human rights. We want to be protected and have health care. People that try to negate that don't seem to understand that we are talking about human beings.
We waste so much money as a country. Why not spend money on a good cause?
Some feel our existence is an attack on them. Our existence is not an attack on their religion or beliefs. It is not all about them. They should stop taking everything so personal. We exist to exist!
WCT: What can allies of the transgender community do?
JD: Allies can remind their opponents that a trans person is a human being. We are someone's daughter or son. We all want the same things: to find love, be in the community and exist.
WCT: Well said. What else can you tell our readers about season four of The Chi?
JD: It is so good. I can't tell them much yet, but I will say our community is represented very well on the show. We are not stereotypes on The Chi. I love the writing even more this year than past seasons.
WCT: How is being around the set with Bravo Real Housewife of Atlanta Kandi Burruss?
JD: Kandi is such a gem. She is an ally of the LGBT community. We have great conversations and she gets that we are just like everyone else.
WCT: What are you working on next?
JD: I have new music coming out.
WCT: What genre of music?
JD: Strangely enough, I have become a rapper. I am usually a simple songstress. I love pop and country. I want people to feel good, so this record will be pop music. I can't believe I am rapping. Marium A. Hyman, who plays Dre on the show, inspired me. I have been in the studio with her and now I am just doing it!
The fourth season of The Chi premieres Sunday, May 23, at 8 p.m. CT. Visit sho.com/The-Chi for more information.