Q&A with Kody Keplinger, author of THE DUFF

 the-duff-final-movie-posterKody Keplinger 2014
Melissa Seymour: Hi, Kody! Thanks so much for chatting with us. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Kody Keplinger: Thanks for having me! I’m Kody Keplinger, and I am the author of five books for kids and teens, including The DUFF, which was just turned into a major motion picture!

MS: Can you describe the moment you discovered your book THE DUFF was going to be turned into a film? What was running through your mind? What did you do?

KK: So, I don’t really know if there was a “moment.”  The film option actually sold before the book was published, and while I was of course very excited, but I was also really trying not to get my hopes up, because an option isn’t a guarantee.  For a couple years after that, there were little steps.  CBS signed on, for instance, and I would start to hope a little more with each turn.  Then, at the end of 2013, and all of a sudden it was real. I got the call that we were going into production, and I don’t even remember how I reacted. It was this thing that I knew COULD happen for years, and all of a sudden, it was! I think I was in shock, honestly. I really didn’t believe it was real until I visited the set last year.

MS: Why do you think high school is such a difficult time? Why is it so important to write from an honest perspective when tackling a story set in high school?

KK: I mean, I had a hard time in both high school and middle school. I think it’s just to be expected when you’re forcing a lot of people – going through the most awkward years of their lives – into a building together. And, as a kid, I always had this fear that it was just me. That I was the only awkward one. I found comfort in books by authors like Judy Blume, which were just so honest and real. I remember reading her novels and thinking she had read my mind.  It was so honest and made me feel like I wasn’t alone. As an author, that’s been my goal from day one.  To write honestly. To show the good the bad and the ugly in my work. Because if it makes even one other person feel like they aren’t alone, it’s worth it.

MS: How do you get into the minds of your characters? Do you do anything specific to immerse yourself in that world? Is there anything strange or unique about your process?

KK: For me, the best way to really bring myself back to my high school years is to put on the music I listened to at the time. I have a huge playlist on my computer that has all the songs I loved throughout high school. I listen to just a few, and all those awkward, angsty feelings come right back.

MS: Now that THE DUFF film is out, the word has become much more well known. Are you worried about any negative effects that might stem from this? What about high school students using this word to bully others?

I want to be clear on one thing first – which is that I didn’t actually create this word. It was a word that was being used in my high school. It’s been out there for a long time. It actually got popular when a guy on a reality dating show in the early 2000s used it.  My intention in writing the book was to reclaim it. Because if it was being used in my high school, it was being used it others, and I wanted to turn it into something that was positive, not a weapon. I know some are concerned about the word becoming popular now. But I think if the movie or the book is how teens are being introduced to the word (if it hasn’t already been used in their school before now) then my hope is that the point of the movie and book will help counteract that. Because everyone is somebody’s DUFF. I mean, if Kylie Jenner can wear a shirt proclaiming she’s felt like a DUFF, then we all have.  And if we are all DUFFs, how is it an insult?

MS: There were some major differences between THE DUFF book and film. If you could change one thing about the movie, what would it be? Why?

Yes, the book and the film are different, but I really love the film and I think it gets the spirit of the book right.  The one thing I’d change? I’d add in more of Jess and Casey.  I liked the film’s take on those characters (I loved writing those characters in the book, too) and I’d love to see more of them.

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

Tina. Effing. Fey.  I have loved Tina Fey since I was a little girl and she was on SNL. But as I got older, I really started to see her as the amazing role model she is. Not only is she funny, but she’s such a smart, talented writer. And she’s such a great representative of a woman in charge. And she’s unapologetic about being seen as “bossy.” I love her.  I want to grow up and be as badass as she is one day.

MS: Thanks so much for chatting with us, Kody! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

KK: Well, for those who have read The DUFF, I want to let you know that there is a companion novel coming out called LYING OUT LOUD. It releases April 28, and Bianca and Wesley play a role in the story! So I hope y’all will enjoy that!


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Visit Kody’s author site here: http://kodykeplinger.com/

Twitter: @Kody_Keplinger


Q&A with Jean Kilbourne: Internationally recognized feminist activist, filmmaker, author, and advertising critic

Melissa Seymour: Hello, Dr. Kilbourne! Thanks for speaking with us today. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

Dr. Jean Kilbourne: I’ve always had a hard time describing what I do because I’m involved in so many different fields.  I basically invented my career and I need to come up with a name for it!  Mostly I say that I am a cultural theorist, a feminist activist, and a critic of advertising. For decades I’ve been studying how advertising and marketing contribute to a wide range of public health issues, such as violence against women, eating disorders, the sexualization of children, high-risk drinking, addiction, and other problems.  Usually when there is a public health problem, there is an industry (or industries) contributing to it and profiting from it, as in the case of the junk food, sugary beverage, and diet industries and obesity, for example.

MS: What was it like working on the first Killing Us Softly? How has your approach or perspective changed?

DJK: I made the first version of “Killing Us Softly” way back in 1979.  It was simply a filmed version of my lecture on advertising’s image of women.  It was done very cheaply, with one take and only one camera.  There was virtually no marketing but, in today’s language, it went viral and has gone on to become one of the most popular educational films of all time.  I’ve remade it three times, most recently in 2010.  Much of what I said in 1979 is still true, but I think my analysis has deepened and certainly the films are infinitely better technically.  Although they are still based on my lectures, we now use commercials and graphics and a range of film techniques – and several cameras!

MS: Your work with gender issues and media coverage is brilliant—especially the concentration on eating disorders. Do you think things are getting better or worse?

DJK: Thank you!  In terms of the image of women in advertising and the popular culture, things are getting worse.  The ideal image of beauty is more tyrannical than ever before, as is the obsession with thinness.  This is partly due to the widespread use of Photoshop to create impossible ideals.  The sexualization of children is worse and images of violence against women are more widespread and extreme.

Alarmingly, pornography has become our nation’s primary form of sex education. On the bright side, however, I was alone when I started speaking about these issues and my ideas were often considered radical.  Now these ideas are mainstream and there are countless individuals and organizations working on these problems.  So this is heartening.

MS: So Sexy So Soon demonstrates how scary our society really is for kids… What can we do each day to try and combat these issues?

DJK: The most important thing we can do as parents and caregivers is to talk with our children honestly and openly about sex and sexuality and relationships (in an age-appropriate way, of course).  Children need at least one adult in their lives with whom they can have authentic conversations.   We also need to lobby to change this toxic cultural environment.  It would be great if we could ban all advertising and marketing aimed at children (as some other countries have done) but,  since that’s impossible in our society these days, let’s at least get advertising out of our schools.  Let’s support organizations like the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, SPARK, the Brave Girls Alliance, and others.

I have an extensive resource list on my website (www.jeankilbourne.com)

MS: Was there ever a time in your career when you weren’t taken seriously?

DJK: Was there ever!  I began speaking at a time when some people still believed that women shouldn’t speak in public.  To make matters worse, I was a feminist talking about sexism.  Women are still taken less seriously than men (and there’s a whole lot of research backing up that assertion) but it has gotten better.  I had many jobs before I launched my career as an activist and public speaker.  I was a waitress, a secretary, a teacher, a saleswoman, a model.  And I was sexually harassed and discriminated against in every one of these fields.

MS: What are you currently working on? Is there a specific issue you’ve been drawn to recently?

DJK: I’m still lecturing and working on updating my presentations.  But I’ve begun to think about writing a memoir, maybe something about the making of an activist.  I’ve also been taking more time for personal travel.  In the past few years I’ve been to Burma, Vietnam, Cambodia, Bhutan, Morocco, and many other places.  My mantra these days is If not now, when?

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

DJK: I’ve been so lucky to have many people in my life who inspired and helped me in a variety of ways.  Jean Baker Miller, the author of Toward a New Psychology of Women, was a friend and mentor, as was George Gerbner, a renowned researcher and professor.  My mother died when I was nine, so I’ll always be grateful to the mothers of some of my friends who made a bigger difference than they could ever know – especially Inez Emerson, Helen Perry, and Rosalie Cartwright.  In 1968 I had the great good fortune to begin therapy with a brilliant psychiatrist named Paul Russell.  I am not exaggerating when I say that he saved my life.  I’m also inspired and moved by all the people in recovery from addictions whom I’ve met along the way. And my daughter Claudia Kilbourne Lux and her friends give me hope for the future.

MS: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

DJK: I’d just like to say that, although things often seem quite bleak and hopeless, I do think we are making progress.  And I’ve always believed that action is the antidote to despair.

Follow Jean on Twitter: @jeankilbourne
For more information, visit www.jeankilbourne.com


Q&A with Rachel Johnson, director of Henrietta Bulkowski

Rachel Johnson’s most recent stopmotion film, Henrietta Bulkowski, was funded through Kickstarter—all $70,000. Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks plays the voice of Henrietta Bulkowski and Academy Award Winner Chris Cooper plays the cop that stars alongside her. Johnson is the founder of Lift Animation and the director of Henrietta Bulkowski along with several other shorts.

Melissa Seymour: Hi Rachel, thanks for speaking with us today! Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Rachel Johnson: I’m a mom, businesswoman, and artist. I run a stopmotion company here in Los Angles. We produce commercials, PSA’s and are currently pitching for TV.

MS: What was is like having Kickstarter fund your film? Were you anticipating the support you received?

RJ: The Kickstarter support was overwhelming. I still get choked up thinking about it. We had no idea how 40K was going to fall magically out of the sky. 70K was a godsend. It was the validation I’d been needing for a decade.

MS: Tell us about Henrietta Bulkowski. What inspired her character and story?

RJ: It’s entirely autobiographical. I was born with one leg shorter than the other and have endured too many surgeries to count to correct it. It’s still uneven and I wear a raised sole on one foot, which has been a source of shame for me since I’ve had it. I’m a mother now and I want my daughter to be proud of herself no matter what. I know that starts with me. This film was a way for me to say, “I’m good the way I am. “ It’s for her as well. 

MS: Why is it so important to challenge society’s ideal of beauty?

RJ: Because it leaves the vast majority of us out, and no one likes to be an outsider.

MS: What’s the team that created Henrietta like? What was it like working with Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks and Academy Award Winner, Chris Cooper?

RJ: Christina and Chris were amazing folks to work with. Both patient and supremely talented. I can’t wait to share their work with the world!

MS: What are your hopes for Lift Animation?

RJ: I want Lift to have a television series in the next three years.

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

RJ: Hands down Hillary Clinton.

MS: Anything you’d like to add?

RJ: I just feel so happy and blessed to be able to do what I love everyday.

Henrietta-Bulkowski-post-2Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 7.13.57 PM

You can check out the trailer for Henrietta Bulkowski here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/henriettabulkowski/henrietta-bulkowski

Q&A with Dr. Meenakshi Gigi Durham: Author of the Lolita Effect


Melissa Seymour: Hello, Dr. Meenakshi Gigi Durham! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Dr. Meenakshi Gigi Durham: I’m a professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Iowa; my research specialization is feminist media studies, and I study and write about representations of gender and sexuality in the media.

MS: Why did you write the Lolita Effect? When did you become aware of these problems? Was there a specific moment?

MGD: I wrote the book for a few reasons: to draw attention to the issue of the sexualization of young girls in the media and the social repercussions of that phenomenon; to make a distinction between “sexualization” and more progressive, open, healthy conceptions of girls’ sexuality; and to translate my research and that of other feminist scholars into a form that was accessible and available to general audiences. I’m not sure I can identify a key moment when I became aware of the issue – it developed gradually, especially during the mid-1990s, when a number of studies were recognizing some of the complications and problems associated with girls’ adolescence in American culture. I began to wonder how the media were implicated in these problems.

MS: What’s the most important thing a parent can explain to their children about the media?

MGD: First of all, that the media, especially the entertainment media, are filled with myths — media images and messages are not “reality” but constructions that seem real, so they should be recognized as something close to fiction; and second, that these constructions of reality are tied to profit motives, so the representations are designed to maximize advertising revenues for the media industries and are not at all in the best interests of the audience members.

MS: Do you think that the media is changing? For better or for worse?

MGD: I can’t say I see any great changes, as the underlying structures — the dependence on advertising, the commercial motivations, the circulation of myths of femininity and sexuality — have stayed the same for decades now. But if anything, it’s getting worse: the media industries are targeting younger and younger children with sexualized and retrograde messages, and the constructions of “ideal” femininity have become even more unattainable and narrowly defined.

MS: Should we try to censor children from the media? Is this possible?

MGD: I’m absolutely not an advocate of censorship. I am much more in favor of open public discussions of important issues that could lead to pro-social change. But some form of regulation might be helpful; this is the case in Scandinavian countries, which are havens for free speech but which also recognize the developmental differences between children and adults.

MS: What are you planning to work on in the future?

MGD: I’m currently writing a couple of academic articles about sexual violence against women and girls. After that, I’m hoping to begin work on a book of essays about media and contemporary girlhood.

MS: How can people take action and try to change the media or advertisements?

MGD: Expressing your views directly to media corporations can be effective. Monitoring your media environment, as well as your child’s, to try to avoid misogynist and harmful media content is another step you can take. Boycotting products that use sexist advertising, and publicizing the boycott, is a good way to challenge sexism in popular culture. I’m also an advocate of media literacy programs that help people develop analytical skills so that they can be active media consumers rather than passive audiences.  I think media literacy should be part of every K-12 curriculum: in today’s media-saturated environment, it’s as important as reading, writing and arithmetic.

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

MGD: That’s a really hard one! There are so many amazing women — and men — whose activism and brilliant social critiques have changed the world. If I started listing them, it would take all day! But my work is indebted to the work of all the feminists who have gone before me.

MS: Do you have any advice for young women that are hoping to become writers, directors, producers or activists?

MGD: I’d say, let your passion guide and inspire you, and find ways to combine your energy and emotion with articulate analysis. Forge strong bonds with others who are working to change the world — coalitions and networks are important, not only in terms of making a difference, but in terms of emotional and moral support. Read the work of feminist activists whose insights offer depths of understanding as we try to tackle the world’s problems; the brilliance of our feminist foremothers will enrich your own work.  Get involved with grassroots groups in your communities, and start creating the work through which you want to share your vision: short films, essays, plays, dance performances, whatever. These days you can post your videos to Youtube or blog or submit your writing to local literary journals; eventually, you will gain a wider audience. Above all, keep striving for change — there’s so much to be done!

photo credit: Overlook Press

Q&A with Jennifer Siebel Newsom: Director of Miss Representation


Melissa Seymour: Hi, Jennifer! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom: I’m the writer, director and producer of Miss Representation, a 2011 documentary that challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman or girl to feel powerful herself. In conjunction with the release of Miss Representation the film, I launched MissRepresentation.org, an organization being renamed this fall to The Representation Project. I continue to write, direct and produce documentaries while also running The Representation Project.

MS: What is the long-term goal for Miss Representation?

JSN: Our mission is to transform culture so that everyone, regardless of gender, race, class, age or circumstance can fulfill his or her potential.

MS: Do you think it’s important for women to reach out to one another and mentor each other?  Did you ever have a mentor in your field?

JSN: Miss Representation actually wouldn’t have been possible without the help of many female friends mentors and a few good men. The eventual film was the result of a lot of hard work, passion, and collaboration. I hope that it stands as a testament to what a small group of committed individuals can accomplish together – a testament to the power of the collective.

Early on I approached my friend Regina Kulik Scully with the concept for the film and she really encouraged me to move forward with production. She came on as an early executive producer and trusted me completely. I am so grateful for her friendship as I am to my film team’s hard work, support, and belief in me. The film is filled with the stories of inspiring females who prove, over and over again, that our potential is really unlimited – especially when we support each other and work together. Many of our interviews from Miss Representation remain friends, supporters, and role models to me and the org.

MS: How does having experience as an actress affect how you view the media?

JSN: As an actress I witnessed the injustice towards women in the media first-hand. It’s not just in front of the camera that we see these demeaning images and stereotypes, but the treatment of women behind the scene is just as limiting.

There are so few opportunities for women to excel as writers, directors, and producers in Hollywood – the influencers of which stories get made. Wanting to change this culture was a big motivation for Miss Representation and remains a goal of the organization.

MS: You’ve mentioned that when you were acting, people treated you differently due to your degrees from Stanford University and Stanford Business School. Could you expand on this?

JSN: My first agent didn’t take me seriously and went so far as to request that I take my Stanford MBA of my resume – he didn’t want me to seem too threatening. Ironic that he had no problems diminishing me however.

MS: What are you planning to work on in the future?

JSN: I’m currently writing, directing, and producing The Mask You Live In (MASK) and The Great American Lie, documentaries that explore American masculinity and the social, political, and economic consequences of a society that values dominance, power, control, and aggression over empathy, care and collaboration. MASK itself explores “the boy crisis” in America that results from extremes of masculinity imposed on our boys and men.  Both films examine the intersection of gender, race, class, and circumstance, and how kids are further influenced by our education system, sports culture, and mass media– especially violent video games and pornography.

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

JSN: Martin Luther King Jr., Hillary Clinton, and my husband, Gavin Newsom.

MS: Do you have any advice for young women that are hoping to become actresses, directors, producers, or writers?

JSN: The most important thing is to be passionate about whatever you do and be true to your authentic self.  Find that thing that you love that you also happen to be good at and don’t look for outside affirmation. Most importantly, don’t leave your values and morals at the door.

Q&A with Brenda Chapman: Director of the Pixar film Brave


Melissa Seymour: Hi, Brenda! Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

Brenda Chapman: I’m a mother, writer, director, artist and storyteller.

MS: What was it like co-directing the Pixar film Brave?

BC: Well, first, I didn’t co-direct. I was sole director of the film until I was replaced in the 11th hour. Sorry, it’s a bit of a sticking point for me. 🙂

MS: What challenges did you face?

BC: Well the big one is my answer above. I faced the challenges that most directors face – creating a compelling story, creating good characters – it just doesn’t come that easily. Also when you have many notes coming from many different people above you, it’s hard to hang on to your vision as the director.

MS: What made this project so rewarding?

BC: That despite it all, in the end, it was still the story I’d been struggling to tell. That I could still see my daughter in Merida – she inspired the character – and that the mother/daughter story seemed to resonate with so many people, not just women. I’ve had many letters and emails from mothers and daughters who relate so much with the characters, and I also have received quite a few from men who love that they can see their mothers, wives, sisters or daughters in Merida and Elinor… or themselves in Fergus. 🙂

MS: Tell us a bit about the A Mighty Girl’s “Keep Merida Brave” campaign. Why is it so important to 
keep Merida her child-like, stubborn, strong-willed self?

BC: Because she’s a different kind of princess – one girls can relate more to than the pretty, helpless heroines of the past. She goes out and gets what she wants. She makes big mistakes and has to try to put them right, and learns something about herself … and her mother… along the way. To change her to look like the other princesses of Disney past is to say she isn’t good enough as she is. That’s a horrible message to send to children.

And I hope no one tries to make another Merida. There are so many different types of characters that girls can be – let’s discover them! Let’s inspire girls with all the different possibilities – lets explore different stories in which girl protagonists can struggle and shine through.

MS: Why are campaigns like #BraveGirlsWant important?

BC: Young girls have so long been fed these stereotypically passive characters, sexualized characters, marginalized characters – it’s time to say “Hey! That’s enough!” We need to stand up for ourselves and not let society and the media try to make us less than who we are.

MS: How can we increase the number of women directors?

BC: Getting the men who run the studios to crack open their minds and give more women the opportunity. Or getting more women to run the studios. I know there are plenty of talented women out there who would be ready and willing to take on either job!

MS: Do you think it’s important for women to mentor other women in their field?

BC: Of course! And I think the majority of women do. I know it’s said that women tend to scorn other women in the workplace, but I have  yet to see that. Maybe it still happens, but I think the more we bring this issue forward, the less that will happen.

It’s important to mentor, but also important to set an example. Our failures are just as important as our successes. We have to show how we handle adversity, so when the younger women and girls come up against it, then they can look to us and say, “If you can do it, we can do that, too!”

MS: What are you currently working on?

BC: I’m developing a couple of projects for DreamWorks Animation… can’t tell you anything about them, unfortunately.

MS: What do you hope to work on in the future?

BC: Stories with female protagonists. In the past, I never thought about it that much, but after everything surrounding BRAVE, I realize that it’s sorely needed. I may make films, I may write books. I’m looking forward to it all.

MS: Who is your hero/heroine?

BC: My mom.

MS: Do you have any advice for young women striving to become directors, producers, or writers?

BC: Don’t give up. When you get knocked down, get back up. Watch movies, read books, love your art.

photo credit: http://www.hdwallpapers.in/walls/disney_pixar_brave-wide.jpg