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Diablo Cody Talks Women In Film, Career At The 2012 Athena Film Festival

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Diablo Cody's razor-sharp wit and compelling, idiosyncratic humor first bubbled to our culture's collective surface with her critically acclaimed 2004 memoir "Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper," which chronicled her year-long adventures as a bored-ex-Catholic-school-girl-typist-whimsically-turned-stripper. Three years later, she broke, with great success, into the Hollywood scene with "Juno," for which she won a WGA Award, an Independent Spirit Award, and the Oscar® for Best Original Screenplay. "Jennifer's Body," a cult favorite, followed in 2009. Her latest film "Young Adult," staring Charlize Theron, was released in December of 2011. Cody was also the creator and executive producer of the SHOWTIME hit series "United States of Tara."

Her current projects include producing a big screen version of Francine Pascal's New York Times best-selling "Sweet Valley High," hosting an Internet talk show, "Red Band Trailer," featuring interviews with celebrities in her Airstream trailer, and making her 2012 directing debut with "Lambs of God" based on a script she wrote.

Cody (whose real name is Brook Busey) is being honored this week at the Athena Film Festival, along with the three other members of the Hollywood Fempire: Dana Fox ("What Happens in Vegas," "Couples Retreat"), Liz Meriwether ("No Strings Attached," "New Girl"), and Lorene Scafaria ("Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist," "Seeking a Friend at the End of the World") for her creativity and excellence as a screenwriter.

SC: Hi. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk today. How do you feel about winning this award?

DC: I feel fantastic about winning the award, and also honored. It's particularly fun to win something alongside your three best friends. We're very proud and when we were approached, we thought this was a very cool thing.

SC: Why is the Athena Film Festival important?

DC: The Festival is important not only because it is highlighting films that are made by women, but it also emphasizes leadership. Because when you work in the industry you see that there is such a paucity of female directors, women in power, women in leadership positions. Honestly, it's depressing. I feel that it is important to be outspoken and call attention to how uneven it is.

SC: Your influence on successful writing trends has been called a "Diablo virus" and you are part of what's known as the Fempire. How do you feel about that name and its suggestion of female hegemony in this context? It sounds like women have taken over Hollywood, despite the inequalities.

DC: You know, the Fempire thing is a joke. We're pretty down-to-earth and don't think of ourselves as an empire of any sort. If it makes other women feel powerful, then I'm down with it. We just are four friends who happen to be writers and support each other. People have a weird reaction to women enjoying their success. There was an entire HBO show, "Entourage," that was about guys congratulating themselves or their successes. Whereas, when women do the same thing, they're "full of themselves." So I make no apologies. I'm especially proud of what the other girls are doing.

SC: You've described the industry's attitude towards women as "nauseating" because basically it's a cohort of almost all men who are, as you've said, uncomfortable with woman being subversive. And yet, you've experienced rare success in creating a complex array of unorthodox characters -- misfits, rulebreakers, outcasts -- distinct girls and women who are NOT adorable and klutzy. How much to you think the subversive quality of your work is responsible for your success? Do you see movie-goers responding in spite of the Hollywood culture?

DC: Well, I think "Juno" was successful because it was fresh and subversive and new. It was refreshing for people to see a teenage girl getting all of the best lines in a movie and having it be her hero journey. I can't think of a movie that's done that in a very long time. I'm very proud of that movie. But, being subversive in "Jennifer's Body" hurt me. Whereas, in "Young Adult," a lot of people have responded positively. It's gotten a lot of critical praise, but it didn't connect commercially, so it's a mixed bag. Some of my success has been borne of subversion, but some of my failure has as well.

SC: When you write, I imagine you are writing stories about interesting characters and not necessarily sitting down with the intention of subverting authority?

DC: It depends, for instance, with "Young Adult," I thought there are so many movies about men who are screwed up and unlikeable and there aren't that many about women who have similar flaws. For me that was a goal. Of course, the story has to come through as well-written. Writing is obviously my top priority. But, yes, there have been times when I want to do that deliberately and want to make a statement.

SC: You clearly identify as a feminist, which is problematic for a lot of people who are more comfortable saying "I believe in equality, but I'm not a feminist."

DC: It drives me absolutely crazy.

SC: What do you say to people who think feminism is something people do as oppose to a culture changing it's way of living and working?

DC: Honestly, I think the word has been tainted. People think of the word "feminist" as being shrill or threatening. Which is just sad. It's not. To be a feminist simply means to believe that women are entitled to equal treatment. I would hope that the majority of people are feminists, although I think a minority of people would actually identify as feminist. That's the problem. I do know that other women how have told me that I need to stop talking about feminism in interviews because they say "Isn't it smarter to just do great work and show through your actions that you're as good as a man." That's a really easy thing to say coming from a position of privilege -- being somebody who has had opportunities appear for them because of feminism, because of other women in the past who weren't afraid of being outspoken or who weren't afraid to be seen as threatening or shrill. I find that very frustrating. So, no, I'm not just going to do good work to show people I'm as good as a man. I'm going to talk about it and I'm going to be outspoken about it.

SC: That advice has always struck me as particularly ironic.

DC: It frustrates me no end. Honestly, what it comes down to is wanting to be liked by men.

SC: A kind of appeasement.

DC: Yes, it is. I guess people don't see that.

SC: So you grew up as a Riot Grrrl, in the 90s, which turned out to be the first clear decade of an anti-feminist backlash, the long tail of which we are living with today. I don't think a lot of women today know what the movement was, but it clearly contributes to your sensibility as a writer. Specifically, a lot of your work has centered on the thoughts of teenage girls. Do you have any insight or advice for young women writers about how to approach their writing?

DC: No, I don't know what to say! I want to answer that question, but I can't relate to younger women. I feel like they've come of age in a completely different time. I feel like the Internet changed everything and everything has become commodified. I feel like if I tried to explain Riot Grrrls to a 19-year old woman right now she would see it as a collection of things she could go buy or an identity she could purchase, whereas that's not what it was about. It was a completely DYI movement centered on creativity and on rejecting the commodification of feminism. I feel that we have a much more cynical generation coming up. People have just been completely over-sexualized at this point. I don't know how they could relate to something like "My So Called Life" where the prettiest girl in the school was wearing a flannel shirt.

SC: You have achieved a certain celebrity and I'm wondering how much you think outward appearance and just sexism has contributed to a fixation on your sex-writing-stripper-turned-screenwriter past and how you've been portrayed and received.

DC: That's my fault. I made my bed. People are fascinated with sex, which is why I was able to use sex to get attention. I've been a writer my entire life. Nobody paid one wit of attention to me until I started writing about sex. To me that is very telling. That I could go from being totally obscure, to being rejected by publishers and then suddenly be a successful writer with opportunities left and write. What changed? The subject matter. For me, I can't complain about it. I used it. At the same time, there is a reason why I reject celebrity at this point in my career. I'm not interested in being known as a personality. I'm more interested in being a director and a writer and am hoping that I can be behind the camera for the rest of my life. I'm not willing to buy into that culture. I don't want to lose 20 pounds, I don't want to look different. I don't want to give polite responses to every question. I find that very interesting.

SC: It's like Gloria Steinem being called the "least threatening kind of feminist" because of her humor and looks. Particularly, as she's described, the attention paid to her as a faux bunny.

DC: That might be true, but she didn't let her looks get in the way. I feel like I had a similar experience ... although I think I took things to the next level. Honestly, it doesn't surprise or disappoint me when men fixate on that, But it does when women fixate on it or reject me as a feminist because of it. I've faced more blowback from women then from men for sure. It's really depressing.

SC: You've now been in Hollywood for a while. Year after year, studies are released that talk about the fact that the gender ratio in Hollywood is unchanged essentially since 1946. So you get this cyclical talk about the "'Bridesmaid's' Effect," or a blip with the success, for example of Juno. Do you see a generational shift happening, because there is a group of people that will eventually age out?

DC: You know, like you said, there is an event every couple of years. And "Bridesmaids" has been a huge game-changer because there are a lot of unproduced comedies that have been written by women sitting there not being made because no one wanted to take a risk on them and now those movies are going to get made. That's cool. I don't know. I'm really excited about Lena Dunham's career, first with "Tiny Furniture" and now she's directing, writing and staring in a series on HBO. She's a 25-year old woman. That's incredible! Every couple of years something comes along that really excites me. Like Catherine Bigelow winning last year. Maybe there is a sea change happening. I don't know.

SC: We have to wrap up, but in closing, is there anything you'd like to close with?

DC: Yes! This festival, and events like it that call attention to inequality and also celebrate the films being made by women, are so important.