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‘Jessica Jones’ Creator Melissa Rosenberg Speaks Out About Sexual Harassment

(JTA) — For those unfamiliar with the Marvel Comics universe, Jessica Jones is one of its darkest characters.

The troubled superhero, also the star of a Netflix show whose second season debuted earlier this month, is a heavy drinking private investigator prone to fits of rage living in New York City. The viewer learns that Jones, who is played by Krysten Ritter and has superpowers like inhuman strength and the ability to heal quickly, was at various times psychologically manipulated and sexually abused by a villain named Kilgrave.

Melissa Rosenberg, the TV show’s Jewish creator, hasn’t lived through circumstances quite as extreme as those. She did, however, endure years of misogynistic treatment that most women in Hollywood experience at the hands of powerful industry men. Rosenberg has spoken publicly about the harassment she suffered early in her career as a female writer in all-male writing rooms on shows such as “Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman” and “Party of Five.”

In an interview with JTA, she talked about the crude jokes her colleagues cracked, the small insults she took in stride and the difficulty of “trying to balance between being one of the guys and also feeling protective and staying true to one’s gender.” (Rosenberg did not want to divulge any of the specific comments.)

If she didn’t join in sexist conversations with her colleagues, she risked being fired, she told The New York Times.

“We’re both fighters,” Rosenberg told JTA in an interview, referencing the Jones character. “I also think I know the anger. The way she acts is kind of wish fulfillment.”

Rosenberg, 55, rose above the obstacles, and before being lauded for her work on “Jessica Jones” — a brooding drama that is full of great fight scenes and grittier than most other superhero adaptations — she adapted the “Twilight” books into four enormously successful films and worked as a head writer and show runner on Showtime’s “Dexter.”

Now she is becoming a feminist touchstone after women directed all 13 episodes of this season of “Jessica Jones.” Rosenberg maintains the decision had nothing to do with the spate of harassment allegations that has poured out in recent months. The filming had wrapped in September, the month before the Harvey Weinstein story that broke the harassment allegations dam came to light.

“The truth of the matter is I was standing on the shoulders of every movement up until this point. This is not a new issue,” she said. “It dates back to the suffragettes, to the women’s movement of the 1970s, to Anita Hill. Some people [think] its prescient, but it’s just continuing the conversation that’s been brewing and building.”

Still, the move is highly symbolic and has been widely noticed by women and men in an industry where the lack of female film directors has become a hot button issue. Jewish actresses Natalie Portman and Barbra Streisand both made headlines for noting the discrepancy at this year’s Golden Globes.

“It started off, we wanted to have 50-50 men [and] women. When we started to look we found so many women with long lists of credits, and we just began a conversation, why not all women directors?” Rosenberg said.

It’s only fitting that Jessica Jones is the ultimate feminist superhero for the Weinstein era. After vanquishing Kilgrave at the end of Season 1, she continues to stand up to men in Season 2 and begins to come to grips with her trauma. Jones (and Ritter) have become pop culture symbols of female empowerment in their own right. Harper’s Bazaar published a piece this week titled “Krysten Ritter Is the Face of Female Vengeance.”

Rosenberg grew up in Northern California’s Bay Area largely unaware of her Jewish heritage.

“In my circle it didn’t occur to me that Rosenberg was a Jewish name,” she said. “There was no sense of Jewish identity. We were kind of Unitarian.”

Her father, Jack, a psychologist and author (he penned “Total Orgasm” in 1973), didn’t provide a lot of structure.

“That became something of a problem when you’re 13 years old and don’t know where the boundaries are. It’s little scary in the world,” she said.

At 17 she moved to New York to work in theater, working as a stripper to help support herself. It was in the city that Rosenberg found her Jewish identity, culturally at least.

“I became much more aware of it. I was really welcomed,” she said. “The community really supported me and the meaning of Judaism became more clear to me.”

In 1995, she married film and TV director Len Spiro, whose grandfather was the first in 16 generations not to become a rabbi.

Unlike Jones, who continually struggles to deal with her past, Rosenberg says she has “processed” what she went through and has no “burning desire to rush out and kill anyone.”

But has the process of working on “Jessica Jones” been cathartic for her?

“It’s an interesting question,” she responded. “I think it’s more about being able to contribute to the conversation about power and women and parity. That’s what I’ve strived to do.”

The Schmooze

Ivanka Trump Went To An Iowa Hair Salon. Now, Its Customers Are Outraged

At Salon Spa W in Des Moines, a gracious environment enhanced with blonde wood and chrome accents, a simple blow-out (a popular hair style that provides volumized hair,) costs $45. If you visit Spa W wishing to achieve a hairstyle like Ivanka Trump, who has (we suspect) double process-dyed hair, which is always immaculately blown out and perfectly trimmed, it will set you back about $224, plus tax and tip. Women who wish to keep up their look repeat this process every four-to-six weeks.

Compared to Manhattan pricing, full hair styling for that cost sounds like chump change. But for Salon Spa W, which has received a barrage of fury from female customers after posting on Facebook about styling Ivanka Trump and Iowa governor Kim Reynolds on Monday, losing customers who pay in the three figures for hair visits is no joke. Since posting an image of the president’s daughter with the comment, “We heart supporting women in politics!”, the spa has dealt with a backlash of criticism as well as support from customers, supposed customers, and bald men who live in other states.

On the Facebook posts, comments came from incensed women like Emmanuel Smith, who wrote, “Do you know how much money I spend at Salon Spa W? I get my nails and hair done there exclusively, and literally have my appointments booked till year’s end. THIS makes me not want to give you another penny, and makes me really REALLY angry for all your amazing LGBTQ staff whose lives these women threaten. Please take this down.”

However, plenty of the 3.4 thousand responses on the original post promise to give Spa W new business, and criticize boycotters. Commenter Jim Sullivan wrote, “All you liberal are a bunch off [sic] butt darts why dont you quit being a bunch of crybaby looser and grow up and act like adults I guarantee if obama walked in to your place you would have it on cnn, msnbc and all the other pathetic news liers showslet alone Facebook.”

And a third type of commenter urged the salon to simply ignore the “butt darts.”

A commenter by the name of Robert Sanford wisely noted, “Don’t get down about it. All the Trump haters posting are either political operatives, communists, Russian Intel, perverts, Elizabeth Warren, or just plain insane.”

The spa added an addendum to their post, which is closer to a defense than an apology. The salon’s owner, China Wong, noted that the spa serves “clients from all walks of life” and has styled former president Barack Obama. But, Wong wrote, “We recognize that impact matters more than intent.”

Whether you’re a liberal butt dart, a 2020 MAGA believer, a pervert, or Elizabeth Warren, you have to admit one thing: Ivanka Trump’s hair looks phenomenal.

And something else, too — the use of Ivanka Trump’s femininity to pit women against women, making excessive wealth appear relatable to the average American woman, is all intentional. And it is a secret weapon that the Trump campaign and administration has deployed many, many times.

But once again, her hair looks great.

Jenny Singer is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny


Movie News: Cynthia Nixon’s Connections To Judaism, Paddington Tries Matzo

Everyone seems excited by Cynthia Nixon’s gubernatorial run, the announcement of which provides a good opportunity to revisit her small but crucial role in Milos Forman’s masterpiece film “Amadeus” (1984). Nixon, who was 17 during filming, plays a maid employed by the jealous composer Salieri to spy on his rival: Mozart. Without her, Salieri would have never discovered that Mozart was writing an opera based upon the play “The Marriage of Figaro” — even though the Emperor had explicitly forbidden such adaptations, due to the play’s revolutionary content.

Spying, conniving, playing rivals against one another? So much for those who question Nixon’s talent for politics.

Anyway, read on for this week’s movie news:

1) Cynthia Nixon’s secret Jewish history

Nixon is not Jewish, but according to the Forward’s Seth Rogovoy, she has a “deep and abiding connection to Judaism through her family.” Despite having drawn the ire of Alan Dershowitz, who called her an “anti-Israel” candidate, Nixon has spoken at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah numerous times, and “even delivered a d’var torah.” Plus, her two children with her former partner Danny Mozes are Jewish.

2) Paddington loves matzo now

“Paddington 2,” the year’s best film — don’t try to argue with me — traces the exploits of a polite, klutzy bear with a British accent who loves marmalade and his dear aunt Lucy. As if we needed another reason to adore Paddington, the film’s new Israeli poster portrays the bear eating his signature marmalade sandwich between two pieces of matzo. Could a possible “Paddington 3” trace the bear’s unexplored Jewish roots? It’s unlikely, because Paddington, as any true fan would know, hails from the Amazon. He’s also a talking bear, so anything is possible.

3) Jeff Goldblum, lobotomist?

Jeff Goldblum is no stranger to weirdo indie films; just watch him transform into an insect in David Cronbenberg’s “The Fly” (1984). Still, his latest project sounds particularly intriguing. As Indiewire reports, Goldblum stars in Rick Alvarez’s “The Mountain” as a lobotomy-performing doctor who encounters a bizarre cult. The film doesn’t yet have a release date.

Add that feature to Goldblum’s already-long list of projects to to promote: He also voices a character in Wes Anderson’s latest feature “Isle of Dogs” and reprises a role in the upcoming Jurassic Park sequel “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.”

4)Three Israeli films to feature at Tribeca Film Festival

Haaretz reports that three Israeli short films will feature at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival: “The Love Letter,” written and directed by Atara Frish,” Keren Ben-Rafael’s “Virgins” and Hagar Ben-Asher’s “Dead Woman Walking.”

The Schmooze

Give Me 865 Words To Make You Fall In Love With One Of The Greatest Artists Alive

Thursday is the birthday of Stephen Sondheim, the greatest musical theater composer and lyricist alive today, perhaps the greatest who has ever lived.

Sondheim, who is 88, is responsible for the lyrics of the Broadway musicals “Gypsy” and “West Side Story,” and the music and lyrics of “Sweeney Todd,” “Into The Woods,” “Sunday In The Park With George,” “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum,” and “Company,” among many others. He is the winner of a Pulitzer Prize, as well as an Oscar, eight Grammy’s, eight Tony Awards, and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Musical theater, and perhaps even popular music, would be unrecognizable today without Stephen Sondheim’s contributions.

But you don’t care about that! Because…

You hate musicals.

Or, you don’t know who Stephen Sondheim is.

Or, you do know who he is, but you hate him because his music isn’t catchy and it rhymes too much/it rhymes too little.

You poor, poor Forward reader! I understand. Some well-meaning person took you to one too many amateur productions of the musical “Annie,” and that takes years to recover from.** But you deserve to to know Stephen Sondheim, because he is a genius whose art has the power to reconfigure the architecture of your soul.** Plus — he’s Jewish!

So here’s a handy how-to guide for getting into Stephen Sondheim:

First, realize you may already like Stephen Sondheim

A lot of people don’t know that Sondheim, who was mentored by Oscar Hammerstein II (of Rodgers & Hammerstein,) wrote the lyrics to “West Side Story” when he was 25 years old. As Anita sings in the musical, “smoke on your pipe and put that in!” The musical was a collaboration with Forward favorite Leonard Bernstein, who wrote the brilliant music. So you can thank Sondheim for unpretentious classics “I Feel Pretty” and “Tonight,” and “Maria.” If ya like “West Side,” ya like Steve.

But if you don’t, you may like how his work sounds when it’s not presented as showtunes.

Much of Sondheim’s music has crossed over to the great American songbook — “Send In The Clowns,” for example, from “A Little Night Music,” has been covered by just about everyone. Here are Frank Sinatra and Dame Judi Dench doing drastically different, wonderfully vulnerable interpretations of the same Sondheim song.

Then, see a great Sondheim production, not a good one

An artistic masterpiece should be expertly framed, not slumped against a wall. You’ll appreciate Sondheim more if you hear his work through Bernadette Peters and Raul Esparza, two of the greatest Sondheim interpreters.

Here is Raul Esparza singing “Being Alive” from “Company”:

And here is Bernadette Peters singing “Losing My Mind” from “Follies”:

Next, find the Sondheim that’s right for you

If at first you don’t like Steve, try, try again.

Sondheim has written comedies and dramas, slasher horrors and romances, musicals about people stuck in department stores, and musicals about people moving backwards in time. You just have to find the one for you.

Maybe you’d like Sondheim better if he was sung by Meryl Streep? Here she is, singing “Stay With Me” from the 2014 “Into The Woods” blockbuster movie, produced by Disney:

Or maybe you need a backstage look at a song that plunges its singer into crisis:

Or maybe you need a little piece of the sublime:

Now, start treating Sondheim like Van Gough, not like Christina Aguilera

If you aren’t entertained by musicals and you see Sondheim musicals as entertainment, you may miss out on their genius. Treat Sondheim as the art it is — even if you don’t like it, you may learn from it. “Sweeney Todd” has one of the richest and most complex scores in Broadway history — try listening to it the way you would look at a great painting.

If all else fails, remember: we wouldn’t have “Hamilton” if not for Sondheim

That was written by “Hamilton” creator and star Lin Manuel Miranda, who interviewed Sondheim last year in the pages of T Magazine. Miranda credits Sondheim with guiding him through the process of writing “Hamilton,” as well as creating the musical theater foundation on which the hip-hop musical was able to build.

So, on Stephen Sondheim’s 88th birthday, remember:

You don’t have to memorize the Witch’s rap from “Into The Woods.” You don’t have to see “Merrily We Roll Along” (the Sondheim musical that runs backwards in time instead of forwards) 17 times in a row. You don’t have to write fan-fiction about Sondheim’s partnership with his muse Bernadette Peters (though all of those things sound fun to me.)

You just have to give yourself the gift of a little bit of art.

Happy birthday, Stephen Sondheim! May you live to be 120.

Jenny Singer is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny

The Schmooze

Jonah Hill’s Grandfather May Have Dated Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Everybody! Everybody. Take a deep breath, make sure you have a light nosh on hand, affix your favorite collar, and pray that you’ll survive this announcement:

According to “Lady Bird” star and America’s newest sweetheart Beanie Feldstein, who also happens to be the sister of comedian Jonah Hill and the childhood best friend of Broadway star Ben Platt … Ruth Bader Ginsburg once dated Hill and Feldstein’s grandfather.

If there is a God, God is plotzing right now.

It all makes sense…the current Supreme Court Justice attended East Midwood Synagogue in Brooklyn and went to Jewish summer camp. The Hill/Feldstein parents grew up in Long Island and summered in the Catskills. Jonah Hill, Beanie Feldstein, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg all have that perfect combination of raw talent and Swiss watch-like comic timing. Why, one wonders, did Ginsburg not marry Beanie and Jonah’s grandfather, and merge spectacular gene pools? As Platt immediately tweeted in response to the news: “What.”

Jonah, Beanie, Ruth, and Ben, please never stop astounding us with tidbits of historical intrigue and Jewishly romantic drama.


Jenny Singer is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at Singer@forward.com or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny

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