Art & Entertainment

Barbie Oscar Snub: Yet Another Misstep For Hollywood Or A Fair Assessment?

The exclusion of Barbie director Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie from their respective categories at the 2024 Academy Award nominations have reignited the historic conversation surrounding Hollywood and the Oscars, specifically, being anti-women.

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Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie accept the Best Comedy Award for 'Barbie' at The 29th Critics' Choice Awards Photo: Getty Images

The 2024 Academy Award nominations were revealed on Monday and what followed was an online furore surrounding the snubs of billion-dollar box office hit Barbie director Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, who essayed the female lead in the film. The exclusion of the two women from their respective categories have reignited the historic conversation surrounding Hollywood and the Oscars, specifically, being anti-women.

Back in 1992, Billy Crystal, who hosted the Academy Awards ceremony, took a jibe at another evident and surprising snub when Babara Streisand was not nominated for Best Director for The Prince of Tides, by singing "Did the movie direct itself?" to the tune of "Don't Rain On My Parade". A common occurrence at the Oscars, an anomaly that finds itself often questioned but seldom challenged, The Prince of Tides received nods in most of the other important categories, barring Best Director.

In its almost a century-old history, only seven women have been nominated in the Best Director category, with only three of them taking it home. Kathryn Bigelow won it for The Hurt Locker, Chloe Zhao for Nomadland and Jane Campion for The Power of The Dog. While 2021 was the only instance where two women were nominated in the category, there have numerous instances of a no-woman list, especially in the director’s category.

Many have felt that the exclusion of Great Gerwig from the director category also speaks to the existing pattern in the male-saturated tradition, as does director Celine Song's snub for Past Lives in the category. Both films, built around a feminist core, have been judged as delicately beautiful pieces of work and nominated for their script work and in the Best Picture category. Barbie broke numerous records, became the highest grossing film of 2023 and was parallely praised for Gerwig's masterful control of the craft and the script, while Margot Robbie was well-praised for her performance. Similarly, Past Lives, a poignant mediation on lost love, has been termed as one of the finest independent works in recent years. Expectedly, the question that has flooded the internet is, "Did the movies direct themselves?"

Barbie star Ryan Gosling, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, released a statement in which he expressed disappointment over Gerwig and Robbie’s snubs. "But there is no Ken without Barbie, and there is no Barbie movie without Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie," said Gosling in a statement to CNN. Numerous people have taken to X to express their disappointment and surprise over the snubs. Author Stephen King expressed his shock regarding the exclusion, while author Brad Meltzer sardonically remarked,  “Nominating Ken but not Barbie is literally the plot of the movie." For many, Barbie, a movie that vocally challenges the deeply entrenched patriarchal bias that continues to complacently stagnate every sector, has been couped up and limited by the same gendered traps. 

In paper, the Academy have probably taken a few progressive steps following the outcry in 2016 over the board's lack of diversity. They had announced plans to address this, promising to double its number of women and ethnically diverse members by 2020. According to the Los Angeles Times, 33 per cent of the Academy's overall members now identify as women and 19 per cent are from marginalised groups. However, this has been seen as a tokenistic approach and has also drawn flak over the last few years. Barbie, all factors considered, also stands in the line of feel-good large-scale commercial films that have often disappointed the Academy in terms of artistry. Amid the disappointment, few have also pointed out that America Ferrera's nomination in supporting actor category against the snubs is a compensation just because her role included an empowered political monologue. These films which are seldom noted for individual brilliance, have been compensated by such tokenistic bits in the past as well.

On the other hand, in a historic first, three out of the ten films nominated for Best Film are women helmed, including Barbie, adding another feather in the cap for Margot Robbie. Meanwhile, Justine Triet is the only woman in the list of men nominated for Best Director, for her film Anatomy of a Fall this year, and Lily Gladstone becomes the first native American woman to be nominated for Best Actress for Killers of The Flower Moon.

The question still on everyone's mind is whether this commercial gem qualifies for the parameters of excellence? Veteran Whoopi Goldberg weighed in on the issue by refusing to term the exclusion as a 'snub'. "That’s what you have to keep in mind: Not everybody gets a prize, and it is subjective. Movies are subjective. The movies you love may not be loved by the people who are voting.” Despite Barbie's tremendous success and critical acclaim, for many critics, the list of the people in the Best Director category is critically fair for works that can hardly be contested. But with its masculine saturation, must the show go on?