Diablo Cody was kindly able to take a few minutes to talk Young Adult and feminism in the film business on the eve of the opening of her new film. It’s good to know that we have a strong feminist voice out there unafraid to own up to her convictions.
Women and Hollywood: One of the narratives of the film is that you created an unlikeable female character. We see unlikeable men all the time. Why is such a big deal that we have a female lead who is unlikeable?
Diablo Cody: The conventional knowledge in Hollywood is that an unsympathetic female character can tank a movie. I’m hoping that’s not true. I’m knocking on wood really emphatically right now but honestly I have a lot of theories sometimes I wonder if it comes down to mommy issues. The idea of a cold, unlikeable woman or a woman who is not in control of herself is genuinely frightening to people because it threatens civilization itself or threatens the American family.
But I don’t know why people are always willing to accept and even like flawed male characters. We’ve seen so many loveable anti-heroes who are curmudgeons or addicts or bad fathers and a lot of those characters have become beloved icons and I don’t see women allowed to play the same parts. So it was really important to me to try and turn that around.
WaH: It was important for you as a person and as a woman in this industry who is trying to make a difference?
DC: Yes. I know this is perhaps an overly ambitious thing to say but I hope the things I write do have an impact on subsequent work. I hope that I can create some change.
WaH: Where did the idea for the film come from?
DC: That’s always a hard question to answer especially with something like this that isn’t particularly high concept. It was more like I started with this character of Mavis who was really interesting to me. The idea of this young adult novelist who couldn’t really move past an adolescence stage herself. And then from that I thought what kind of things that person would do, how would that person behave, and my first thought was that she would freak out if her ex-boyfriend moved on. And she would try and recapture that time in her life. She would stop at nothing. That was how I created Mavis’ journey.
WaH: Some writers go through their careers never becoming part of the story. You are clearly not one of those writers.
DC: Most writers are never part of the conversation which is tragic.
WaH: What is it about you and your work that gets people going?
DC: I don’t think my work has anything to do with it. I hate to say it but I feel like there were just aspects of my personality that were heavily exploited in the press a few years ago and for that reason I’ve managed to stick in people’s memories. I would love to be known for my work. I don’t know if that’s the case. But I am trying to tell original creative stories I’m hoping that becomes my calling card. I am specifically trying to tell stories about women so maybe those things are distinctive to people. I just know a lot of really amazing writers who are not known by name to the general public.
WaH: Do you think that men and women have different opinions of you?
DC: I don’t know. If you had asked me that a few years ago I would have said well they must. And honestly I don’t know if that is the case. I don’t particularly feel like women are on my side in a way that guys aren’t. I think there is a specific type of person who likes me and a specific type of person who does not and it has nothing to do with gender lines.
WaH: You wear your feminist badge on your sleeve. Does that effect your work in Hollywood?
DC: There was a time when it did. I had to get over it. I feel like the reason why Young Adult is so precious to me is because this is me getting over it. This was me being able to completely enclose myself in a bubble and do the work and create something that I was incredibly proud of and I think was a step forward for me. But a couple of years ago it was really daunting. I thought what am I going to do, this might be the end for me.
WaH: Being a person who advocates for women you get the people who don’t want women to have power in a tizzy. What are the consequences for women who speak out.
DC: I don’t think the consequences are as obvious as they might have been 20 years ago which is actually why they are more insidious. I know other women in the industry who have tried to insist to me that sexism does not exist, or that they themselves have not experienced it, or that I need to be quiet about feminism because we are all obviously making such great strides and I’m going to set us back by being the stereotypical shrill annoying feminist. And that just chafes my hide because no progress would ever be made in any area of discrimination if people were just quiet. No progress would ever have been made and women would still be being dragged around by our hair if it wasn’t for people who were willing to be shrill and obnoxious and alienate men. I know it’s a terrible thing to say but it’s true.
WaH: You don’t have to be anti- men to be pro woman.
DC: I’m not anti men at all but the fact of the matter is talking about feminism does alienate a certain type of man. And that’s what I think a lot of women are afraid of. I am totally pro man. I love guys.
WaH: Do you think that Jennifer’s Body was treated fairly?
DC: Yeah- if that’s people’s opinion of the movie then that’s a fair opinion. I can’t tell anybody that their opinion is wrong.
WaH: But in the zeitgeist beyond reviews…
DC: I certainly feel like it was reviewed in advance if you know what I mean which does not make me happy.
WaH: I feel that this film is not getting that treatment at all.
DC: You know what. People can’t deny this movie. Charlize is incredible in this movie and I think it’s like I don’t how to really explain it…the reason I have been so anticipating the release of this film is that I feel like it’s going to shut a lot of people down. I am really proud of of it.
WaH: And Charlize has a sense of gravitas that Megan Fox doesn’t.
DC: Well I don’t know I love Megan Fox. I have a feeling that she is going to have a second wind and I look forward to seeing her in some other stuff. I am really looking forward to the Judd Apatow movie because she is funny and that’s something a lot of people don’t know aobut her. But Charlize has the credibility and the Oscar so people see she’s in a movie they immediately think serious in a way they don’t when they see Megan Fox
WaH: You are now about to direct. What is the thing that most excites you and what is the thing that scares you the most?
DC: I am most scared of the social aspect of directing. The idea of having to work with a lot of people at once because I’m used to isolation. I’m not always the greatest communicator or the best person at relating to others which is something I learned in my TV years. I’m worried about that aspect of it. I’m most excited about the creative aspect. I feel absolutely prepared creatively. 105 percent. But I feel nervous about how I am going to interact with such a large crew and assume a leadership role.
WaH: As you know I am a big fan of the fempire. Since that first article came out in the NY Times you have all achieved a whole different level of success. But this continued mythology exists about how women don’t support each other which goes back to what you were saying earlier about how women say don’t be feminsits. Is that your experience in Hollywood?
DC: I don’t know if I am the best case study because I get it from everybody. A lot of my peers — male and female — give me a hard time just because I sort of become the unofficial poster girl of screenwrting which is embarrassing to me as well. All the women I know have been supportive of me and they are the coolest ladies in the world.
WaH: What do you think is the biggest challenge to the success of women in Hollywood?
DC: Becoming complicit. Let’s say like a woman discovers that she can make the most money by writing really clichéd movies with weak roles for women and she chooses to do that to advance herself in that way and that’s sad. I want people out there who are willing to challenge the status quo. I think a lot of women out there are really eager to become a part of the boys club instead of starting a girls club.
WaH: What’s the craziest thing someone has said to you in a Hollywood meeting?
DC: I was blatantly told once that I had only been hired for a job because the director was generally viewed as kind of a sexist Neanderthal and they wanted to shut down all the feminists with look Diablo Cody worked on this. So it’s ok. That made me laugh.
WaH: You have to wear armor to work in Hollywood.
DC: I wish I would have had a good comeback for that but I just started laughing. They basically told me that they weren’t even fans of my writing it was just that perhaps their movie would have some appeal to women if I was involved.
Young Adult opens in NY and LA today and across the country next Friday.