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  • Writer's pictureRua Fay

How the Oscars Proved "Barbie" Right

As many of you may know, on January 26th, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences released their highly anticipated list of nominees for their upcoming Oscars ceremony. For the most part, I'd say the nominees were fair, were there a few snubs like every year? Of course. But there is something fundamentally wrong with the Oscar nominees this year. We have a clear problem on our hands, a problem hastily covered up with a bright pink band-aid.

Like millions of others this summer, I saw Barbie in theaters decked out in the most pink I could fish out of my wardrobe. Whether you loved or hated it, there's no denying that Barbie was the definitive movie of the summer. It had no shortage of laughs, A-List stars, memorable fashion, and even heartfelt moments. There truly was something for everyone. And also like millions of others, I was kind of confused to see Barbie's cast fill the nominee lists for this year's major award shows. Sure, it was a great movie, but are these mainly comedic performances worthy of the highest honor in the film industry? Especially during a year where films like Oppenheimer, Past Lives, and Killers of the Flower Moon were crammed full of memorable performances? Personally, I don't think so, even though I like Barbie as a movie very very much.

The issue with this year's Oscars lies in both who's nominated and who isn't. Lead actress, Margot Robbie did not secure a nod for her performance, and neither did director, Greta Gerwig. But somehow, Ryan Gosling scored a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Ken. Luckily one of Barbie's original songs, "What Was I Made For?" g0t a nomination...but so did "I'm Just Ken." Are you sensing a pattern here like me?

In addition, America Ferrera got nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Mattel employee, Gloria. She undoubtedly received this nomination for her monologue in the film where she lists the many struggles and contradictions of being a "perfect" woman in the eyes of society. She mentions how you have to be thin, but not too thin, family-oriented but a career woman at the same time, standing out while always being apart of a sisterhood, etc. Basically, how being the "perfect" woman is just plain impossible. Just by the nomination alone, we can assume that the voting committee at the Academy who determine the nominations, have seen this harrowing scene. But judging by their list of nominations, it doesn't seem like they were entirely paying attention.

Barbie, at its core, is a film about womanhood, even if those women are made of plastic at first. No matter where we come from and no matter what we're made of, women are always going to share common experiences, especially when it comes to relationships with men. In the film, the Barbies have spent a lifetime creating the perfect, women-run society where everyone is given respect, and permission to be themselves. We see a diverse array of Barbies throughout the film including people of color, a transgender Barbie, and even a pregnant "Midge" doll. This peace in Barbieland is interrupted when Ken returns from the real world, where patriarchy reigns supreme. It takes a matter of days for Barbieland to turn into the "Kendom," ruled by the Kens (duh).

From Gloria's monologue to the rapid rise of the Kendom, it's clear what the message the film is trying to convey: being a woman is work, and a woman can put one hundred times more effort into something than a man, but they will still be rewarded the same. Even down to the mere appearances of the dolls. Every Barbie is dressed in beautiful, extravagant clothes while the Kens get away with being in permanent swimsuits. Everything about the Barbies reek of effort, effort that will never live up to a man's.

So what does any of this have to do with the Oscars? Because due to the people they chose to nominate and not nominate, they have proven the film right. A comedic role like Ryan Gosling's Ken received an Oscar nomination despite the fact that Margot Robbie's Barbie has double the amount of screen time and delivers a much more nuanced, complex performance. Her character wasn't just there for laughs like Ken, but once again, a man has put half the amount of effort into something and still managed to triumph over his female counterpart.

This does not just pertain to the acting nominations however. I was very pleased to see Billie Eilish's "What Was I Made For?" win a Golden Globe this year and be nominated for best original song at the Oscars. It's a haunting song about girlhood, and all the complexities that come with it. Its inclusion in Barbie led to my favorite singular scene in film this year, where Margot Robbie's Barbie gets to witness the ups and downs of womanhood in a tear-inducing montage. Once again, this beautiful piece of art that had so much effort put into it, is nominated alongside "I'm Just Ken," a comedic novelty song about being a Ken Doll. The biggest insult of all is that "I'm Just Ken" ended up winning over  "What Was I Made For?" at this year's Critics Choice Awards, and judging by Ryan Gosling's reaction, I think he was just as shocked as the rest of us.

Of course those two nominations are a disappointment, but the worst of all is that Greta Gerwig was ignored for "Best Director." Through Barbie, Greta Gerwig was able to create a film that best exemplified the summer of 2023, set a box office record for a female director, and practically changed the film industry as we know it. Surely this is deserving of at least a nomination right? The Academy certainly didn't think so. Similar outrage surfaced when Gerwig was also snubbed for directing Little Women in 2019. The only woman to score a nomination for directing this year was Justine Triet for the French film, Anatomy of a Fall.

While some of Barbie's nominees were disappointing this year, Greta Gerwig's snub hurt. As a woman in film school, about to enter the industry, it was incredibly disheartening to see. You could make a film as introspective, professionally made, and topical as Barbie and maybe secure a Best Picture nomination, but don't expect to be hailed as a director if you happen to be a woman. Things like these reenforce the notion that directing is a man's job, and that needs to change.

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