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  • The Daily Orange

SU alumna Jasmine White’s new show ‘Hotline’ delivers diverse story to Amazon Prime

Updated: Jun 17

Jasmine White has always been a creator. She spent years, both in and out of school, meticulously crafting her work and exploring the mediums of film and television. But most of all, White has spent her time exploring the role that media can play in finding community and developing one’s identity.

White, who graduated from Syracuse University in 2015 with a dual degree in television, radio and film and English and textual studies, credits much of her success to her time as an undergraduate. The resources at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications gave her the equipment and opportunity to get started in film and TV by producing web series with her friends. Beyond developing her technical skills, though, the web series also gave White and her friends an outlet to try and understand their college community.

“That was the first time we’ve been in a predominantly white space,” White said. “It was a lot of learning, a lot of different experiences, a lot of trying to unpack, ‘what does this mean? Who am I?’ Just trying to find our place in the world.”

Even during her early years in film and television, White valued telling diverse stories. Of the two web series she created in college, one featured LGBTQ+ characters. Another, called “#Blackpeopleproblems,” explored the microaggressions and experiences White and her friends faced in a predominantly white community like SU.

The series was heavily inspired by Issa Rae’s “Awkward Black Girl” on YouTube, which White loved to watch with her friends. With the resources they had from Newhouse, they began producing the web series.

“We all kind of felt like, ‘we gotta Issa Rae our way to the top,’” White said. “So let’s just follow her path and do what she did.”

White, now a screenwriter and producer, has brought the lessons she learned at SU into her career. Amazon Prime picked up her most recent show, “Hotline,” and will be airing on Revolt TV this month. The drama and crime show follows Hazel Clarke, a transgender attorney, who starts working at a suicide hotline and is drawn into the mystery surrounding the death of her sister.

Though White initially came up with the idea for “Hotline” years ago, the process from its initial development to it being picked up by a major streaming platform spanned years. Before production on the show could commence, White fundraised in order to pay for the costs of filming.

With the help of several hundred contributors, White raised about $15,000 for the show’s production. Donors expressed their excitement about the project to White, and one even made a theme song for the show in the middle of the crowdfunding process.

Partway through the fundraising, White had raised enough money to produce a trailer for “Hotline,” and she was able to use that to raise the remaining funds. White even hosted two sold-out fundraising events, the first presenting a diverse lineup of stand-up comedians and the second was a time for LGBTQ+ individuals to share their coming-out stories.

“One of them was at the Stonewall Inn, which is known for starting Pride. (It was) packed wall-to-wall,” White said. “To see the community turn up, turn out for ‘Hotline,’ it just fueled us during the crowdfunding campaign and gave us all the energy we needed to bring it home.”

She began writing the script for “Hotline” in 2018, and throughout the process of developing and producing the show, White placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of realism and telling an authentic story.

She was put in touch with Gwendolyn Rogers, who was working at a law firm at the time. After talking with White, Rogers became involved in the project to consult on the legal aspects of the show, and later took on a producer role.

“It really meant the world to me, because as a Black, nonbinary and trans person, having this type of project that stars (a) Black trans woman and centers her life in that way, and being able to help to bring some Black trans talent to the team, was really impactful,” Rogers said.

White aimed to keep those same values in her professional work, too. In the same way that her collegiate web series helped her explore her community and identity, White wanted her diverse cast and crew to accurately represent the Black and LGBTQ+ communities during filming and production.

Soon enough, production began in 2019 with director Dallas Alexis. However, due to the pandemic and other various setbacks, filming was not completed until 2021.

“I had deaths in my family during the pandemic during shooting,” Alexis said. “It was quite a journey, and we pulled through. It was a joyous, joyous moment to see it come from the inception of the script, from production, to go through hell and back shooting and finally getting it done.”

Following production, White submitted “Hotline” to Amazon Prime’s portal for indie filmmakers. The portal allows creators to submit projects to see if they align with what the streaming service is looking for at the time. In the meantime, filmmakers check the portal periodically to see if their show was picked up.

The process is supposed to take 30 days, but when she went more than a month without a response, White began to wonder if she’d ever hear back. However, after talking with an Amazon executive at a networking event, she got a positive answer on the submission.

“This is my first indie project, and to have been placed on a platform so large, I feel really good about it,” White said. “I was just grateful for the people that trusted me with their time.”

White’s passion for “Hotline” and her other projects was always evident to the cast and crew she worked with. From bringing a diverse cast and crew onto the project, to the way she interacted with her team over the course of filming and listened to their ideas during production, she made sure that her work reflected the love she had for the show, Alexis said.

Most of all, her cast and crew were able to see the importance that she placed on the story they were trying to tell. The care taken in developing the characters, ensuring accuracy of the legal aspects in the film and incorporating cast and crew feedback, Rogers said, all demonstrated the effort that White had put into every aspect of her writing and production.

“Everything that Jasmine creates or writes is personal, and it has bits and pieces of her life experiences attached to the project,” Alexis said. “It’s not her creating content just for the sake of creating content. The content means something. It has a solid foundation behind it.”

Ultimately, White aims to increase diversity in media. Representation in television and film as something that can empower people, inspire them to pursue their dreams and help them feel comfortable in their identity, White said.

This goal of increasing television representation and creating opportunities was a strong influence on the creation of “Hotline,” White said. She recalled how many of the stories she saw about transgender people focused on their transition or trauma, and wanted to make a show about transgender characters that had a plot about something other than their identity.

“What about just creating escapist content?” White said. “TV entertainment is cathartic. It’s fun. It gives you a chance to escape from how hard life can be, and everyone deserves that, including Black trans women.”

Read the full article here.


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