Diablo Cody is depressed about the Oscar nominations. Not just because her screenplay for "Young Adult" was snubbed — she already has one statuette at home for "Juno" — but more so because she wasn't the only woman overlooked this year. Only three were nominated as screenwriters — Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig for "Bridesmaids," and the late Bridget O'Connor as co-writer of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" — and none were nominated for Best Director. (Although a few films helmed by women scored nods in other categories: Agnieska Holland's "In Darkness" in Best Foreign Language Film, and Jennifer Yuh Nelson's "Kung Fu Panda 2" in Animated Film).
"I'm happy for Kristen and Annie," Cody told The Playlist, "but honestly, particularly in the director category, it's a little depressing. There were a few ladies nominated the year I was, but that's not the norm."
Despite all the attention given to Kathryn Bigelow's Best Director Oscar win for 2009's "The Hurt Locker," the number of female directors is actually going down. A recent report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film called The Celluloid Ceiling found that only five percent of 2011's highest-grossing movies were directed by women — down from seven percent in 2010 and nine percent in 1998. Of the 250 highest-grossing films last year, only 14 percent were written by women, while 38 percent of the films employed one or no women in roles such as producer, director, writer, editor, or cinematographer. "There is inequality going on, and it's institutionalized, and it needs to stop," Cody said, adding that she used to blame women for their own lack of inclusion — "maybe they weren't assertive enough, maybe they were too deferential" — but since becoming both a mother and a director, she's started thinking differently. "It seems a lot of people in power are not comfortable with women writing or directing," she said. "They think it's incompatible with motherhood or some other responsibility, and that freaks me out. A lot of women are doing amazing things as producers and executive producers, but on the creative side? Not as much, and that's deeply depressing."
Whenever she has brought up the issue, Cody said, "I've been told, 'Be quiet and just do good work.' If I don't [stay quiet], that makes me look like I'm a shrill harpie. But conversely, if I am quiet and just doing good work on my own, then I'm the only one who benefits from that. I'm going to continue to be outspoken and explicitly feminist about this, and I wish more women would do the same."
And Cody is doing something about it. Along with her "Fempire" girls-club — screenwriter friends Dana Fox ("What Happens in Vegas," "Couples Retreat"), Liz Meriwether ("No Strings Attached"), and Lorene Scafaria ("Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist," "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World") — she's the co-chair of the Athena Film Festival, which showcases the work of women filmmakers, and starts in New York on February 9th. "I want other opportunities to be created for other women," she said. "If I'm having the greatest career ever, but shitty conditions still exist for other women, then that's not a solution."
As she begins pre-production in Louisiana on her untitled directorial debut (formerly referred to as "Lamb of God"), Cody's making a concerted effort to hire as many female crew members as possible for the film, which starts shooting interiors in March. "I'm not going to apply gender bias," she said. "If a guy is more qualified, I'll hire him, because I'm looking for the best person for the job."
When seeking advice from directors of her past films, Cody learned something useful from "Jennifer's Body" helmer Karyn Kusama — who made her movie with a toddler in tow. "She told me that I need to be as firm as possible about getting home on time," Cody said. "I have to say, 'This is when the day ends.' And I'm doing that, but at the same time, it's making me more conscious of my femaleness. You don't hear male directors worrying about struggling to be a father at the same time, how to juggle family." Because they have wives to take care of their family business for them? She laughed, "I guess I need a wife!"
Cody said "Lamb of God" was discarded as a title because a metal band called Lamb of God has the name trademarked for all usage, and because the word "God" doesn't play well overseas. "I don't know what to call it yet, but I have to choose something," she said. "The subject matter is really rich, since it involves fate, beauty, insecurity, innocence, experience. I'm kind of overwhelmed!"
Depending on how overwhelmed she is during the entire shoot, Cody hasn't decided yet whether she'll continue directing. "I'm going to see if I like it," she laughed. "Maybe I'll do it again. I still don't think of myself as a career director, but I'm willing to give it a try."
The Athena Film Festival runs from Februay 9-12.