Starring in the new feature film Haymaker, out January 29, is a point of pride for singer-songwriter and actress Nomi Ruiz.
“I was really excited to be a part of Haymaker because it was really more progressive than anything I’ve seen before,” Ruiz tells The Advocate.
In the film, Ruiz plays a nightclub performer, who like the actress is trans, of Puerto Rican descent, and named Nomi. She is rescued from a male aggressor by club bouncer Nick (Nick Sasso), who becomes her protector and confidant. When Nick decides to return to Muay Thai fighting, a combat sport, his life and their relationship are put at risk. Sasso wrote and directed the movie.
Ruiz liked that Nomi’s trans identity is simply a fact in the film and is not at the forefront of the character. Haymaker, she says, tells a trans-inclusive story that is more interesting and complex than the pre- and post-transition narratives that have dominated films with trans protagonists.
Ruiz also wrote original music for the movie, including the song “Like a Ghost,” and served as a producer. The Brooklyn-born and -based artist, who has performed under the name Jessica 6, has created music fusing hip-hop, soul, and rhythm and blues, and she made a name for herself in the electronic dance scene when she appeared on Hercules & Love Affair’s self-titled debut album. Her own albums include Lost in Lust and The Capricorn. “I’ve loved music since I was a child,” she says.
Her music career, until the pandemic, meant a lot of travel and meeting friends and fans around the world. “I miss that connection,” she says. But she’s hardly been idle. She’s planning to record “Like a Ghost,” and she’s been doing some screenwriting. One of her projects is a series based on her life story, combining music and drama. She’s also eager to do more acting, having guested on the TV show Mayans M.C. before filming Haymaker. “I caught the bug,” she says.
She has been outspoken about discrimination in the music industry and has written essays on feminism, sex, romance, and gender identity that have been published in a variety of outlets. Being a trans woman of color in the industry “hasn’t been easy, which is why I’ve taken the road of being a true independent artist,” Ruiz says. When a new generation comes into the business, that will change, she predicts. But in the meantime, she’s using her voice to create progress in music, film, and elsewhere. “I don’t think we live in a world yet where people get that we exist in general,” she says.
Haymaker is out in theaters and available digitally and on demand January 29. Watch an exclusive clip below.