How 'American Crime Story' Producer Nina Jacobson Is Making Audiences Face a Harsh Reality

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Jacobson opens up to ETonline about LGBT visibility and feminism on screen.

Nina Jacobson
understands the power of visibility in Hollywood. Considered one of the most
powerful women in the industry, the producer has broken down barriers for both
women and the LGBT community for the past 20+ years.

On Saturday, March
19, the Human Rights Campaign will honor Jacobson with the Visibility Award for
her continued success as an openly gay woman, who “sets the stage as an example
for others to follow.”

Admittedly, Jacobson
tells ETonline she hasn't done much in terms of producing LGBT characters
on screen, but she has been at the forefront of change within the entertainment
industry. In the early ‘90s, she and producer Bruce Cohen formed Out There, an
organization for LGBT personnel in Hollywood. Jacobson has since been an
outspoken advocate, unashamed of who she is -- even when it wasn’t always in her
best professional interest.

WATCH: Marica Clark Opens Up to ET About Sexism During the O.J. Simpson Trial

“There were times,
even at Disney, where I would get friendly advice not to be [out] -- ‘there's
more to you than just being gay’ and ‘you don't have to make this such a part
of your identity’ and that kind of thing,” Jacobson says of her former
employer, which also reportedly terminated her as president of Buena Vista
Motion Pictures while she was in the hospital with her partner, who had just
given birth to their third child. At Disney, she produced such hits as The
Sixth Sense
, The Princess Diaries, and the Pirates of the
franchise. (Disney did not respond to a request for comment for this story.) 

“The truth is that
it's kind of an all or nothing deal. Visibility is the only answer in many
respects. It's the only route towards progress,” she continues.

That’s not to
minimize Jacobson’s impact on screen. In the years since, she founded Color
Force, producing The Hunger Games franchise and launching FX’s hit
anthology series, American Crime Story. Both projects have helped provide
a new -- and sometimes harsh -- perspective on issues surrounding gender, race,
politics, and celebrity culture. 


The first season of American
Crime Story
, The People v. O.J. Simpson, Jacobson says has given
the country an opportunity to hold a mirror up to itself. “The way we like to
think of ourselves is not the way we look,” she says. “We like to think of
ourselves as more evolved than we frequently are.”

“We always want to
congratulate ourselves at having made more progress than we actually have,” she

specifically to gender in the workplace, which is told through the lens of
prosecutor Marcia Clark (played by Sarah Paulson), Jacobson says American
Crime Story
’s sixth episode (“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia”) may be “one of the
most feminist episodes of television a person will ever get to see.” Famously
vilified for her hair and clothing, Clark’s story on the show can be seen as an
allegory for Hillary Clinton, Katherine Harris and other women in politics and

WATCH: How Faye Fesnick's '90s Interviews Match Up With 'American Crime Story'

“It shows how
difficult it is for a woman to be in the limelight without having her
appearance parched incessantly and her contributions trivialized,” she says.

If there is a
central theme to her work, at least with Color Force, it’s a notion of standing
up to adversity. “Any time that someone defies the status quo and defies
oppression, it feels like a step in the right direction,” Jacobson says,
knowing what’s seen on screen has the power to make audiences face a certain

With that in mind,
she looks at shows like Transparent on Amazon, or even the current
political landscape
, and knows there are more stories to be told. “I wonder,
‘Have I really done enough?’” Jacobson asks herself.  “I say, ‘I still
have a lot more left to do.’”