Portraying Real Women on Screen with 'Celeste and Jesse Forever' Producer Jennifer Todd

Last time I checked, there were at least seven (probably more) Sundance films currently in theatres. That is, if you live in New York. If you live outside of New York, there's probably only one. Nevertheless, late August seems to have become the season of Sundance theatrical distribution for those films lucky enough to make their way to the big screen from the country's most prominent independent film festival. Perhaps distributors see Sundance films as the antidote to big studio releases filling up the multiplexes all summer long, and decide to jam them into the theatres all at once. Riding this counterprogramming wave is Celeste and Jesse Forever, written by Rashida Jones and Will McCormack, directed by Lee Toland Krieger, and produced by Jennifer Todd. Thanks to the Academy Conversations video below, we get a brief glimpse into the story's origin, shooting location ironies, and portraying real women on screen.

Here's the trailer for Celeste and Jesse Forever:

Academy Conversations video:

At the very end of the video, Jennifer Todd describes how studio films tend to portray women and why the portrayal of Celeste's character meant so much to her:

[W]hen you’re developing a studio film, to make a woman likable, the script always has to start with her losing her job, getting dumped by a guy, tripping in high heels. It’s sort of the requisite what-you-have-to-do to then be likable and be picked back up and have someone fall in love with you. And it’s sort of the rules that we’ve sadly developed a lot of stories by. And that’s what I loved about this, that [Celeste] seemed like such a real character to me. She was so recognizable. I see myself in Celeste, I see my friends in Celeste…I think she is a likable character…. I like that we weren’t concerned about it. [We] were just presenting someone who felt very real to me.

Real, strong female protagonists seem to be in short supply in movies even though women purchase half of all movie tickets according to the MPAA (BTW, female assassins may be strong protagonists, but I don't believe they necessarily belong in the category of real female protagonists, just to head off those arguments). Perhaps the demographics of screenwriters contribute to the dearth of real female protagonists, but for me, Jennifer Todd's argument about likability for female characters rings especially true. More important than likability is sympathy for a character--can the audience relate to the character? Female characters should be allowed to make mistakes, get angry, lash out if that's what the character needs to do in that moment of the story. Too often, when readers confront these scenes in scripts, they tend to label the female character as a bitch. In reality, these scenes actually portray another facet of a dynamic female character who may be justified in her actions or who may be making a big mistake, but in the end has also become more sympathetic to audience members who have experienced the same emotions.

Here's hoping more producers like Jennifer Todd produce more movies with real female protagonists. Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Link: Academy Conversations

[via Nicholl Fellowships Facebook feed]

Your Comment


You're wrong, Mr. Boone. Very, very wrong. Sundance just opened one of their theaters on sunset blvd in hollywood, and I believe all 5 of the films being shown were screened at the 2012 festival.

August 31, 2012 at 2:01PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

john jeffreys

Good post Chris, gotta agree. It's always refreshing to see women in strong, more realistic character roles. l think Winter's Bone does that nicely by combining strength and nurture.

August 31, 2012 at 2:43PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM


Celeste is my ex gf. Mixed race, black and white type A. I am Jesse, white creative type. The dynamic in this movie is mirrored by my life experience the last 4 years. Ripped my heart up. As long as a story is truthful, it will find its audience.

September 7, 2012 at 6:42AM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM

Call me Jesse

If women purchase half of all theater tickets, the script writers know how to make movies that women want to buy. Let's see more some depictions of real, strong women that throw objects at significant male others and beat children instead of the stereotyped beaten-down woman with eye bruises. Real women are responsible for the majority of partner physical aggression and the the vast majority of child abuse, so let's see at least some realism. Wait, no one wants to watch that.

September 9, 2012 at 5:48PM, Edited September 4, 7:54AM