Chatting With Diablo Cody About Film, Feminism, and the Right to Be Mediocre

by Katrina Pallop

Sundance has come and gone this year, and the Tribeca and Telluride film festivals still seem eons away. But don’t despair, cinephiles, because there is another festival in town that’s chockfull of films and events you’re sure to love. The Athena Film Festival is kicking off its third year of programming next week. From February 7th to February 10th, makers and lovers of movies will assemble at Barnard in New York City to celebrate women and leadership in film. The festival is a BUST sponsor and you can pick up a copy of the latest mag there!

The Athena Film Festival’s star is rising, and fast. The films that comprise this year’s lineup are some of the most talked-about of the year, and the event is being co-chaired by some of the biggest names in film. From the legendary Mira Nair to mumblecore queen Greta Gerwig, there is no shortage of talent, acclaim, and badassery in the team behind Athena. 

Imagine how excited we were to learn that BUST cover girl Diablo Cody would also be co-chairing the Athena Film Festival right here in our very own NYC! It cannot be overstated how important her contributions to film and TV have been, especially for women looking to get into the industry. I got to chat with this fantastic artist and all-around rad human being about film, feminism, and the right to be mediocre. 

Katrina: You’ll be here in New York next week as a co-chair of the Athena Film Festival at Barnard. How did you become involved with the festival? 

Diablo: Well, this is my second year as co-chair, and it’s the third year of the Festival. So I think after their first go-around, they had approached me, and I had not heard of Athena. And when I found out what it was, I thought, “this is a great opportunity to be something really cool”. Because I really feel that it is necessary. We need a festival that recognizes films not only made by women, but women in leadership positions in the film industry. Because if you look at what’s happening in Hollywood right now, it’s pretty grim. Oscar nominations came out this month there are no women nominated for best director, not even Kathryn Bigelow. And in the screenwriting category we have twelve writers nominated, and only one of the twelve is female. So, clearly, there’s some misrepresentation going on. 

Katrina: Absolutely. I feel like there’s been a lot of talk lately about how independent film is better at representing women than Hollywood. Do you think that’s true?

Diablo: Oh my god, that is where it’s at. If you look at Sundance, just this weekend Jill Soloway—my buddy and old co-writer on United States of Tara—she won Best Director at Sundance, which is so exciting. And Lake Bell won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. So I think right there, I mean, the proof is in the pudding. The indie space has been a lot more welcoming, for women. And I think it’s because there aren’t as many gatekeepers. Women can just go out and make these projects, and not have to worry about convincing some guy that they’re capable of that leadership. 

Katrina: Do you think that most of the roadblocks standing between women and film careers in Hollywood have to do with gender politics?

Diablo: Absolutely. I do have to say though, being a woman in Hollywood, that the women are a lot more supportive of each other than men are. Honestly, that’s because men don’t have to be supportive of each other. They have plenty of opportunities, so they can be competitive. Whereas with women, I think a lot of us have sort of bonded and clung together, and we try to collaborate and to help each other, and it’s a really nice community. And maybe someday we’ll be in a position where we can be as awful to each other as men are. Right now we don’t have that luxury. 

Katrina: Is that a big part of how Athena came to be? The community of women filmmakers coming together to support their own? 

Diablo: Yeah, exactly. And I think that’s one thing that’s been a very pleasant surprise about the adversity that female filmmakers face, is the fact that so many of them have helped each other and supported each other. That’s a cool thing to witness.

Katrina: So, what exactly does being a co-chair for the festival entail?

Diablo: It depends on the co-chair. In my case, most of what I’m doing is getting the word out. You know, being a kind of public face for the festival. I’m not part of the selection process, so I didn’t pick these movies. I had kind of a crazy year, I directed a movie and I had another baby. So I wasn’t able to be super-involved this time around. But the festival itself is coming up, so I’m hoping that I can be part of the push to get people to notice it and make it part of the mainstream festival circuit that people talk about.

Katrina: The lineup looks fantastic. Are there any projects in particular that you’re stoked about?

Diablo: Yeah, there’s this documentary called Women Aren’t Funny

Katrina: We’re giving away free tickets to that! 

Diablo: I’m pretty psyched about that. And there’s some cool events that are taking place. There’s going to be a Q & A with Brenda Chapman, there’s a lot going on that’s exciting. It’s a really cool, really jam-packed awesome festival. 

Katrina: Athena is billed as a celebration of women and leadership in the real world and on-screen. It’s unique in that it emphasizes leadership, like you said, instead of generically “positive” or strictly “good” characters. Do you think that creating complicated, flawed, authentic representations of women is what being a feminist in film is all about? 

Diablo: I think that’s extremely important, but I think it’s important to create all types of female characters, across the spectrum. I always say that what makes me sad is that women don’t even get the opportunity to be mediocre in the way that guys do. It’s like, every week these bad movies come out at the box office—let’s let women direct some of them! I’m not saying that’s going to make them great, I’m saying we need to be allowed to make good movies, bad movies, mediocre movies. We need to be able to create authentic flawed characters and totally crappy one-dimensional characters. I think we should be allowed to do it all, bad and good, just like guys. I don’t like the idea that women need to get in there and prove that we’re great at it. Because you know what? We’re not all gonna be great at it. We just need to be doing it, and get paid for doing it.

Katrina: We need the creative space to be able to fail miserably.

Diablo: Exactly. That’s the biggest problem. If a woman directs a movie and it doesn’t do well, people are like, “ugh, we better not hire another woman”. And it’s like, wait! Five other movies came out this week that didn’t perform well! It’s frustrating to me that guys are allowed to have these diverse bodies of work, but with women it’s like, you better come out there and win an Oscar. 

Katrina: For your new film, Paradise, you pulled double duty as director and screenwriter. Did it feel like you were wearing two different hats, or one gigantic sombrero of authority?

Diablo: You know what, I had to be the writer while I was writing, and then when shooting actually began, I had to be one hundred percent director. I was no longer acting in service of the script at all. I had to be in service of the actors and the story, and I could not be precious about the writing because that was no longer my job. So once in a while, situations would arise where I would have to do a little writing on set. But I tried really hard not to, I tried to just be the director. It’s a lot easier than surrendering your script to a completely different person. 

Katrina: Now that you’ve had a shot at directing, do you think you’re always going to want that same level of creative authority? Or do you think it will just depend on the project?

Diablo: Weirdly enough, no. It really has to do with the project. Like, I know I absolutely want to work with Jason Reitman again. I’m hoping that he will direct something I write again. And there’s other directors I’d like to work with, honestly. So I do want to direct again, but I don’t think that it’s something I’m going to want to do every time…I talk like I’m going to have so many more projects. You never know, maybe that opportunity’s not going to come again. 

Katrina: I doubt that. But, you know, I thought the world was supposed to end a month ago, so…Is there anything on your bucket list besides writing and directing, anything else in film or TV that you’d be curious about trying out? 

Diablo: Yeah, absolutely. I would love to get back into TV. I would love to do a network sitcom. I’m trying to do that right now. And I’m very excited about this potential Sweet Valley High musical that may be happening. 

Katrina: Oh my god. I actually just shuddered with anticipation when you said that. 

Diablo: I know, me too! I’m very excited about it, and I feel like this is the year. And I’m really hoping we can finally get this thing made. There are a lot of things I want to do. I wouldn’t mind trying to do something a little more independent, too. And I know a lot of people say that now, but it’s so exciting when you see people out there making micro-budget movies with like a Canon 70 or a RED Cam. There’s so little interference. To me, that sounds very exciting, cause I’ve only ever worked with a studio. 

Katrina: That reminds me of your web series, Red Band Trailer, which is really low budget and also fantastic. 

Diablo: Thank you! And that’s what whetted my appetite. Because my husband and I did that together, and we had so much fun because there were no rules. I hope we can do more of those, cause we had a really good time making them.

Katrina: Do you have the ultimate guest in mind, if you could have anyone in the world in the trailer with you? 

Diablo: I’ve always said, I think Quentin Tarantino would be a great Red Band Trailer guy. Cause he’s a friend of mine, and he’s always up for anything, and he’s so fun. So I’ve got to get him in the trailer. I would love to talk to Spielberg. I don’t know why directors…But that would be fun. And then, of course, there’s always the dream of scoring the coveted interview that Oprah couldn’t get. 

Katrina: Get Lance Armstrong in there, yeah?

Diablo: Yeah. To have an exclusive on Red Band Trailer. I don’t know what actor would ever do that. I tried to get Lady Gaga once, cause I thought, that would blow people’s minds. Because Lady Gage doesn’t do a lot of big sit-down interviews, but what if she decided to do ours cause she’s so weird? Unfortunately, I couldn’t get through to her people. But you know, that would have been cool.   

Katrina: So Paradise is in post-production now, right? 

Diablo: Actually, we’re finished! So now we are just gonna get that movie out this year. That’s the hope. 

Katrina: And the TV series, what’s that project like?

Diablo: I can’t talk about it yet. I hope something will be revealed. And if you don’t hear about it, I’ve screwed it up.

Katrina: Well, all my fingers and toes are crossed on its behalf. Ever since United States of Tara ended, there’s just been a hole in my life. What advice would you give to a young woman looking to get into the industry, whether on or off camera?

Diablo: I say that this is a really amazing time to be interested in this industry. Because the DIY element had gotten so huge. Make as much as you can, you have no excuse not to be out there making shorts, writing stuff. You can self-distribute through Youtube. It used to be it was very hard to even get eyeballs on your work. Now it’s very possible. So just generate as much content as you can, and be pushy. That’s all I can say. 

There are your marching orders, my friends! If you’re in the NYC area, be sure to check out the Athena Film Festival lineup of screenings and events. Otherwise, keep an eye out for Paradise and all of Diablo Cody’s upcoming projects. And if you’re so inclined, maybe consider grabbing a pen or camera and making something of your own. There’s never been a better time to try! For a spot of inspiration, here’s an episode of Diablo Cody’s Red Band Trailer with Mindy Kaling (you’re welcome). 

Check out the lineup of the festival and don’t forget to grab a copy of the BUST mag when you go!

Photos via Sheryl Nields 

Video via Youtube

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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