Jess Jacobs, 25
Actress and Co-Founder of Invisible Pictures
In Hollywood, withstanding bias, sexism and ridicule is an everyday occurrence for women, given men’s executive positions in the industry. Actress Jess Jacobs, for one, was 24 when she started feeling a lack of respect from the companies she was auditioning for. “I was reading scripts where women characters were passive recipients of the world around them rather than active participants in it,” says Jacobs, who then launched a female-led, female-sourced production outfit of her own. “I wanted to use content creation and my experience as a storyteller to change the narrative.”
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I have worked as an actor since I was 15, so it’s really the only job I’ve ever known. As I’ve grown in the industry and as a woman, I have found empathy to be a critical trait, and being an actor is being a professional empathizer. My job is to put myself in other people’s shoes, to find the humanity in even the most difficult of individuals. However, after a number of years and a number of exciting successes, I was looking around and finding myself often feeling uninspired. I was watching women’s stories turned into niche films and television. I was reading scripts where women characters were passive recipients of the world around them rather than active participants in it. So it became obvious rather quickly: I wanted to use content creation and my experience as a storyteller to change the narrative and work towards bringing underrepresented communities who have been made invisible by systems and institutions around the world into the mainstream. And so Invisible Pictures was born. Between being an actor and being a producer, I am honored to embody multiple stages of the storytelling process. My greatest achievement has been my contribution to the building of a space to make all of those things possible, always in community with other artists and producers and creative minds.
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
Ask any young woman in Hollywood, and they’ll tell you that some version of “you’re too…” is a daily occurrence. Actresses, especially, are subject to every judgement under the sun. I also have been told throughout my career numerous absurd things. Besides the classic “you’re too old for…” right after “you’re too young for…” and so on. I was once told that I was tough to cast because I “didn’t have a quirk, like frizzy red hair,” as if that physical “quirk” was somehow my missing link.
I think the spark for me, though, really came when I wanted to produce my own content because I was tired of reading passive women characters, and someone told me that I couldn’t be a producer and be taken seriously as an actor simultaneously so early in my career. I was told I was too unknown to make a difference. I was told I was too small to change things. I was told I couldn’t pursue two passions at the same time. So, of course, I knew I had to go out and do just that.
3. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
The biggest limitation I have faced in my career is the immense amount of unintentional sexism that seeps into content at all levels of the media, from small independent projects to major network TV shows. This kind of content is not only uninspiring to me as an individual, but also sends the message of disempowerment to all women who consume the content and internalize these messages around the world.
The biggest stereotype I have faced in my career is the fact that walking into rooms with heavy hitters as a young woman is often met with a twice up-and-down and a patronizing smile indicating an obvious lowering of expectations. A lot of these limitations and stereotypes led me, in more ways than one, to rely on other people to tell me how to live my life. The messaging I had received was that I was not in a position to own my power or to be a leader. I was waiting for someone to give me a shot, rather than standing up and building my life, my career and my passion for myself.
4. What did you learn through your personal journey?
I overcame the stereotypes and limitations I faced by looking at all of them as opportunities. Every obstacle was a chance to learn something, to take a risk, to show myself what I was capable of. If the stereotype says pretty women can’t be intelligent and successful in business, then I would be sure to put on my favorite outfit for a meeting. If the stereotype says young women can’t be trusted with important responsibilities, I would take on more than anyone thought I could handle and confirm myself capable. And as much as I’ve learned, I am still working everyday to approach things as a woman rather than trying to beat a man at a man’s game. As a millennial, I have an instinct for digital content which is so valuable in the industry today and finding a producing partner with an expertise in traditional media was, and is, so much more fulfilling than trying to act like I can do it all alone. Before my 25th birthday, I co-founded Invisible Pictures, with my producing partner, Emmy-nominated industry veteran and one of the most incredible women I know, Audrey Rosenberg. We are dedicated to authentic stories which are not normally represented or elevated in dominant culture.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
My one piece of advice: Do it anyway. Society’s limitations are perpetuated by our willingness to let them have power over us. Preconceived notions are only notions. Go make your own rules.
Being stared at by strangers is something I have become very accustomed to. Not because I am a beautiful, ethereal being that catches everyone's attention (but I will take it if that's what you're thinking), but in the way that I am a Black woman, a Black person, and people tend to notice my presence. I don't think there is a Black person out there that can deny knowing what it's like to be stared at by a random person.