Oscars 2024: The real reason Barbie’s Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie were snubbed by the Oscars

With many shocked by the Academy’s failure to recognise the work of Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie at yesterday’s Oscar nominations – what was behind it all?

Being based on a doll really hurt Barbie at the Oscars. Although the film was nominated for best picture, Greta Gerwig was snubbed as director and Margot Robbie left out of the best actress category, omissions that caused a flood of outrage on the internet and from their colleagues. The Associated Press called Gerwig’s snub “one of the biggest shocks in recent memory”. Some fans took it out on Ken. As USA Today pointed out, quoting a user on X, Ryan Gosling being nominated for supporting actor while Gerwig and Robbie were left out “kind of proves the point of the movie”, that the patriarchy is still with us. Gosling, Ken himself, said in a statement: “There is no Barbie movie without Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, the two people most responsible for this history-making, globally-celebrated film”.

The film industry’s lingering sexism may have been a factor, but that only contributed to the fundamental problem. Despite that best picture nod, Oscar voters refused to take the toy-based film seriously, ignoring how inventive it is, dismissing it as a billion-dollar popcorn movie when it is also a funny, subversive cultural statement. It undermines stereotypes about women ­– with meta-wit, Robbie’s character is named Stereotypical Barbie – but wraps that in a buoyant, candy-coloured cloud. Oscar voters couldn’t or wouldn’t look past that surface to see how imaginative and substantial the film is, and how meticulously Gerwig orchestrated it.

With 10 films nominated for best picture and only five slots for directors, some films have to land in the “must have directed themselves” category. But it is conspicuous that Gerwig seems to have been displaced by nominees who made smaller, sober films: Justine Triet, who deserves her surprise nomination for the suspenseful Anatomy of a Fall (and rescued the category from being all-male), and Jonathan Glazer, who was anything but a sure thing for the Holocaust drama The Zone of Interest. Apparently Gerwig’s light-handed comedy couldn’t compete.

And even before the nominations were announced, there were hints that Barbie’s originality would be underestimated. The first came when the Academy ruled that Gerwig and Noah Baumbach’s inspired screenplay belonged in the adapted category (where it received a nomination) and not original. Whether it was tone-deaf to the script’s inventiveness or just foolishly rigid, the executive committee of the Academy’s Writers Branch said that the movie was based on a previously existing character, that is, a doll.

Another clue came at the Golden Globes. Barbie failed to win best comedy or musical but walked away with the cheesy, newly-invented award for cinematic box office achievement, a consolation prize for being popular and making money.

The film’s relationship to money and corporate culture was problematic from the start. The story criticizes Mattel, the company selling all those Barbies, as obtuse and patriarchal, but the movie itself is a major studio production licensed by the toy company. When the movie was released, the New York Times pointed out critics’ divided opinions about whether it is “slickly subversive or inescapably corporate”. Oscar voters apparently chose to see it as one more studio blockbuster. That echoes the recent pattern of big commercial movies getting into the best picture race and their directors being ignored, including Dune, Top Gun: Maverick and Avatar: The Way of Water. But none of those had the cultural resonance or freshness of Barbie.

The 96th Academy Awards are broadcast on ABC on 10 March.

Source: BBC

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