Showtime's drama The Chi announced a number of guest stars at the outset of Season 3, now airing on the network; among them La La Anthony, Kandi Burrus, and Lil Rel Howery. A less recognizable name joining the series was Jasmine Davis, a burgeoning actor who, until now, had only small parts in productions including LA's Finest and a TV movie Deviants. Fans of the show might not have known Davis before, but they definitely know her now, especially after she made her mark in a striking scene in a recent episode.
In "Brewfurd," Episode 302, Davis' character Imani and her boyfriend Trig (Luke James) have a date night at a bar; when she steps away, a man starts flirting with Trig, obnoxiously going from assertive to downright aggressive. They're in a gay bar, and Imani's absence subsequently leaves Trig alone with a jerk who can't figure out why a straight dude is in a gay establishment, and doesn't want to take "no" for an answer. Imani returns and defuses the situation, but outside the venue, the pair have a lovers' quarrel with a 21st-century twist: Trig has no issues with her being trans -- he sees and loves her as the woman she is -- he just doesn't want to be mistaken for gay, and frankly, he'd have preferred a night in with his lady rather than be at some hookup spot.
For some viewers, the scene might've been surprising for the way it nonchalantly revealed that Trig's partner, previously introduced in the first episode, is a trans woman. It might've been surprising for people who've known Davis for a long time, too: she came out just over a year ago, mere months before she landed her role on The Chi. In fact, Davis, who'd done print campaign work and commercials -- once as a pregnant woman -- initially didn't even want to read for the part, having grown accustomed to playing cisgender women. Knowing all too well that trans women are frequently portrayed as nameless sex workers, she kept quiet. "That's why it took so long for me to come out," she told TV Guide via phone. "I would not play those roles. I didn't want to get pigeonholed. The same way they do Black actors, it's like no, I'm not a 'Black actor.' I'm an actor. I've done videos, I've played moms. You can't tell me what I can't do."
But after years of seeing Black trans women die by violence, and spending years afraid she'd get too noticeable and then get outed, she decided to out herself -- both to take control of her own narrative and be an inspiration for other trans women. "I got so tired of hiding. I was like 'Jasmine, you have to follow your dreams.' This is your calling."
Hers are not fly-by-night dreams built on a whim. She has studied the Meisner technique (although today prefers to use the Ivana Chubbuck method), and she trained at Second City in Chicago. The Chi isn't her first time playing a trans woman -- her character on LA's Finest was a trans lady -- but Imani is her most meaty role thus far. Tender but tough, Imani is a ride-or-die girlfriend who can roll a blunt and has her own means of income (she's a hairstylist) independent of her man. Davis, initially reluctant to even consider the part, said she took to Imani right away because Imani reminded her of herself.
"I looked at it, and prayed about it, and said if I get the callback, I'll take the role. I got the call, and my anxiety kicked in immediately. Like, 'Girl do you know what's about to happen?'"
Like Imani, Davis grew up in Chicago and first began supporting herself as a hairstylist, passing as a cis woman at the Pivot Point cosmetology school. Her observant Catholic family did not approve of her gender expression, and while working as a hairstylist, she learned to pass. It was part survival, part acting intensive. "When you're somewhat passable, you become almost like a spy. You see what people look for. You learn quickly, like, 'Okay, this is how you maneuver.'"
Thankfully, her days of hiding are over. She's gotten to a better place with her mom and is now playing one of the most visible Black trans people on TV today. Beyond The Chi, she has bigger dreams. "I wanna be a Bond girl," she said. That's not inconceivable: as viewers will see on The Chi, Imani is not the kind of girl who gets jittery around a pistol, and neither is Jasmine Davis.
"I shoot guns. My last boyfriend, it was a sport for him, and he would teach me how to use firearms. I know how to shoot a .38 and a 9mm. But my favorite is a Glock. They jam less, and they're easy to grip. I'm a Glock girl."
The Chi airs Sundays at 9/8c on Showtime.