Sipping mint tea in a posh Beverly Hills restaurant, Rosenberg is matter-of-fact when discussing the sexism she’s encountered during her 24-year career in Hollywood. There was the time her agent put her up for a writing job on a popular network television show only to be told they didn’t need her because they “already had a woman.” And then there are the statistics she cites that show women and minorities are as underrepresented in front of and behind the camera today as they were when she started her career in the mid-1990s.
“You’re going to get kicked in the teeth over and over again in this business,” she explains. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a successful showrunner, you will continue to get kicked in the teeth your entire career. This is a brutal business and it’s a hard road for women in particular.”
If Hollywood is a boys’ club, the subgenre of comic book superhero adaptations is headquartered squarely in the men’s locker room. Fortunately for Netflix subscribers and Marvel fans, Rosenberg knows that superheroes don’t always wear jockstraps. Her latest creation, Netflix’s new Marvel series Jessica Jones, tells the story of a whiskey-swigging female antihero who’s as flawed as she is heroic.
Rosenberg cut her screenwriting teeth on shows including Party of Five, The O.C. and Dexter. She also penned the screenplays for all four Twilight movies, an experience that, along with her work on Dexter and the short-lived ABC series Red Widow, helped her hone her skills as an adapter.
It was writer-producer Jeph Loeb who introduced Rosenberg to Alias, the Marvel comic book series about Jessica Jones; she instantly fell in love with it. “This really is the character I have wanted to write my entire career,” she says. “Having watched the beginning of this golden age of television with all these great characters — Tony Soprano, Dexter, Walter White — all amazing white male characters that are incredibly compelling and draw you in because they are flawed and damaged, I just thought, surely we can have a woman character carry a show.”
Red Widow, the first show she created and developed to try to accomplish that goal, didn’t pan out. “My beloved child that unfortunately didn’t make it,” she sighs, referencing its single-season run.
“You’re going to get kicked in the teeth over and over again in this business.” —Melissa Rosenberg
Tenaciously, she moved forward after that disappointment, and Jessica Jones has succeeded where Red Widow did not. Starring Krysten Ritter, the show is unflinching in its dealings with rape, violence and trauma. It’s also savvy in its portrayal of rough, visceral consensual sex without using any nudity. There aren’t any F-bombs either, a Marvel demand that works because, as Rosenberg puts it, “Ritter can say ‘cantaloupe’ and it sounds like ‘fuck you.’”
A second season of Jessica Jones is slated to begin filming next year. On a recent weekday, Rosenberg was chatting with her old agent about her staffing needs for the upcoming season. “I’ve already got my white guy,” she joked, referencing their experience together when she was up for that network gig years ago.
Now Rosenberg is the boss. Jessica Jones is entirely hers, for better or for worse. It’s a lot of work and a lot of stress, but it’s the show she’s been waiting her entire career to make. She handles the stress by getting the work done. “Women get things done,” she says. “That’s what we do.”