Moxie, which premiered on Netflix on March 3rd, tells the story of a high school girl Vivian (Hadley Robinson) discovering her voice when she begins to fight back against the toxic environment at her school. Fed up with the sexism and double standards perpetrated by the school’s administration, Vivian, through the process of creating an anonymous feminist zine titled “Moxie”, discovers her mom’s past as a feminist icon and member of the Riot Grrrl movement of the 90’s. Vivian’s mom, played by director Amy Poehler, inspires this rebellion within her, as well as a new student that arrives at the school. The idea of a young girl fighting against microaggressions and poor treatment that takes place at a school is nothing new, but by combining this with the very refreshing idea of taking inspiration from 90’s feminist icons spins what would be a very basic story on its head.
The movie is based on the 2017 novel of the same name, written by author Jennifer Mathieu. Mathieu, a high school English teacher in Houston, Texas. Moxie is a story unique to the high school experience, and it makes sense that a teacher so attuned to her students’ struggles and efforts would be able to so masterfully tell a story like Vivian’s. Jennifer Mathieu was kind enough to take time out of her busy teaching and writing schedule to discuss the upcoming adaptation of her book Moxie into a movie for Netflix.
Miriam Handel: Just to start off, what inspired you to write the story of Moxie?
Jennifer Mathieu: I think I was inspired by a lot of different things in my life to write Moxie. My mostly lifelong- starting really as a teenager- interest in feminism and gender equality, as well as a long time love of zines and Riot Grrrl, which was a feminist punk movement in the 90’s. In this subculture of punk music that I was into, girls would talk about gender equality and feminism and they would make zines, since this was before the internet, and they would trade them in order to learn more about these movements and ideas. I think that my long time love of those things was sort of the seed that made Moxie happen. I used to make my own zine in college which was called Jennifer, and I think all those things combined inspired me.
Do you think that the story has more meaning if you are aware of Riot Grrrl and this movement, or do you think that you could pick up the book or turn on the movie with no prior knowledge and be able to discover this culture for the first time?
You know, I think there are a lot of entry points into this novel. I’ve had women around my age from my generation that have reached out to me and have been like, “Oh, this was sort of nostalgic, like a walk down memory lane”, you know, to read about those things that they already knew about. But then I’ve also heard from young readers, young women and some boys too, that have never heard about this movement and never knew what a zine was or anything like that, and they were able to find out about that world through reading this book. So I think that there are a lot of different entry points into the Moxie story, and so I think something that’s been really fun about it is seeing that it’s something that’s been well received by adult readers and by teenage readers too.
So when you first found out that Moxie was being optioned by Amy Poehler’s production company, what was that like?
So books get optioned all the time, so it’s exciting when it happens, but a lot of books get optioned and they never actually become a film. So when it was first optioned, I was just thrilled. I thought, well, if this is all that ever happens, that’s great in and of itself, right? Because I got to talk to Amy Poehler on the phone and she called to tell me her vision for the project and all these other things. I’m an enormous fan of hers, I’ve been a fan of her for years, even before this happened; I used to love her on Saturday Night Live, I had read her book, I actually taught part of her book when I taught at a different school, and I even taught her essay and I actually taught that same lesson this year. So basically I’m a huge fan of hers and when it happened I thought this is amazing. And then it actually became a movie too, which is even more amazing. So yes, that’s how the journey began.
It was obviously exciting to have your book made into a movie but was it nerve wracking at all to put your baby into someone else’s hands? Or did you trust Amy’s understanding of the story you told?
That’s a great question. I trusted her totally. And, you know, there are stories of authors that did not like the adaptations of their books. I think probably one of the most famous ones is, Stephen King apparently hated the film version of The Shining so there are some times where that does happen, but I knew from the start, I never worried for even a second that it wasn’t going to be amazing because not only do I know Amy Poehler’s work, but when we spoke on the phone, her understanding of the novel was so awesome. One of the things that I really appreciated about her is that she really understood the mother daughter relationship that I was trying to create.
You know, the mother daughter relationship is really central to the book. I think it’s this really like loving, realistic relationship that I’m really proud of, and it’s kind of like representative to me of like the older feminists and the younger feminists and how sometimes, you know, they’re in conflict, but really ultimately when we learn to listen to each other, we all benefit. So I loved writing Vivian and her mother because there was such a sweet relationship and there was so much love between them. Amy really understood that, and of course she plays Vivian’s mom in the movie, so that was really great.
Do you think that it’s important to have a director like Amy, where she’s such a role model for women in TV and comedy and in general that it feels organic to her to be in a role like that?
Yeah. I mean, we certainly just need more women in the director’s chair period, but then when you have a movie that is centring, around a feminist narrative, I think it makes even more sense to have a female director. So you know, I thought she was the perfect person for it. For a number of reasons, not just of course, because she’s a woman, but because she understands how to tell a story through other work that she’s done. I know she knows how to tell a story and make it funny and relatable, but also make it say something really important and genuine, and something that needs to be heard and said. When I got to visit the set, I was able to watch her interact with the young cast and the way that she directed the cast, which was primarily young women, it was just so nice to see her be able to connect with them and just guide them and just generate these wonderful performances from them and out of them.
So how involved were you with the screenplay and with the actual production of the movie?
Yeah, so I wasn’t really super involved at all. You know, when you sign the rights over, there are some writers that will negotiate to be the screenwriter or whatever. I didn’t want to do that. I had no interest in writing the screenplay. That’s not my thing at all. It’s great that people do it, but that’s not my interest. So essentially just when you sign over the rights, you know, that they can do whatever they want, which of course is why Stephen King wasn’t happy with The Shining. I wasn’t really in any kind of consulting role, but they did ask me to read over the screenplay in early drafts to kind of just give them feedback, which I did, which wasn’t really much feedback because I loved it.
So I just kind of went along for the ride and just got to sort of enjoy it. When I sat down to watch the movie, a lot of it was just as much of a surprise for me as it will be for the readers, you know, it’s really its own creation. It really is Amy’s unique vision, and what I love about it is that I feel like it’s the greatest thing because I feel like it stays true to my novel, and it honours the parts of the book that I really loved writing and that I’m so happy are in the book, but then she made it her own unique, cool thing too. She’s changed the storyline a little bit, she added a couple of little subplots and stuff and it’s just, it’s perfect. It’s because I don’t like it when a movie is just note for note with the book. When it kind of becomes its own version of something, and that’s what she’s done, it’s really, really, really great.
Last but not least, do you have anything you want to add?
You know, when I write books for teenagers, I don’t really think about, “I want to teach a lesson”, because we know – you had me as a teacher – teenagers can think for themselves and we can guide them. But I don’t like it when people write books for teenagers, and then they’re like now learn a lesson. It’s corny and kids know when they’re being preached at, but something when I wrote Moxie, that was really important to me, was that I wanted readers to at least understand or get a sense that living your life as a feminist is really, to me about liberation, like liberation and joy and living your best truest self, and that’s for boys and girls or for anybody, right?
When you are released from these strict, ridiculous societal rules about, you know, boys are not allowed to cry. Girls can’t be good at math or whatever, we just allow ourselves to be our full and complete and true selves. We all benefit. So that was something that I really wanted to get across with Moxie, and I think that the film is going to do an amazing job of that, and it’s a really diverse cast. I definitely tried to address issues of race and ethnicity in the book, and I think Amy has really made the movie even more intersectional, and I really appreciate that she did that.
Moxie is streaming now on Netflix.
by Miriam Handel
Miriam Handel is a student at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas studying Journalism. When she’s not writing or working on school you can find her rewatching the same 5 movies, binge watching HBO dramas, or getting into Twitter arguments over which Real Housewives city is the best. Favourite movies include: Frances Ha, The Social Network, Game Night, and Bridget Jones’s Diary. You can find her on Twitter and on Letterboxd.