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Snubbing the Snub

Updated: Apr 10

Why Barbie didn't deserve more than eight nominations

I watched Barbie on opening weekend with, physically and metaphorically, everyone and their mother. I laughed. I cried. I felt reinvigorated to dig out my old pair of pink Birkenstocks. I did not, however, leave that cinema thinking, “Wow. That was Margot Robbie’s Oscar-winning performance.”

There has been a lot of commotion over the last few weeks over a supposed Barbie Oscar ‘snub’. In short: whilst Robbie’s counterpart Ryan Gosling scooped up the nomination for Best Supporting Actor, thanks to his portrayal of the devoted and lovingly misguided Ken, Robbie’s Best Actress nomination was nowhere to be found. Immediately, Barbie’s staunch defenders took to their pitchforks and X accounts to unashamedly bash the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences — accusing the Academy of misogyny and embodying patriarchal values. “Ken getting nominated and not Barbie is honestly so fitting for a film about a man discovering the power of patriarchy in the Real World,” was typical of the comments found on every social media outlet. The online frenzy was so impassioned that even Hillary Clinton weighed in on the debate. “You’re both so much more than Kenough,” she wrote on X, referring to both Robbie and director Greta Gerwig. Yes. You’ve read that correctly — the former United States Secretary of State, First Lady, and Presidential candidate for the Democratic Party agreed that Barbie had been well and truly snubbed. 

Such exorbitant reactions would make one think that Barbie was just a mere footnote in the long list of Oscar nominations, but in reality, the film successfully amassed eight nominations. This includes Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, acknowledging both Robbie and Gerwig’s roles as executive producer and director/writer respectively. I am certainly not rebuking this impressive feat. Rather, I want to put forward the argument that to claim Barbie deserved even more nominations is, quite frankly, absurd. 

Our generation has apparently become members of the Academy in the last few weeks, joining the esteemed ranks of the carefully selected array of global industry professionals, offering our own criteria for what constitutes a Best Actress/Director nomination. According to many online, a billion-dollar profit is one of them. Yet last time I checked, not every billion-dollar-grossing Marvel film has made it all the way to the Oscar stage. Why can we not just accept that there may be a method to the Academy’s supposed madness? For all one knows, there was a reason Robbie and Gerwig lost out to the other five nominees. Reasons that were not necessarily  ‘anti-feminist’ in their nature. 

“Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we're always doing it wrong.” This direct quote from America Ferrera’s infamous Barbie monologue has been used by Barbie fans to showcase how Barbie’s own plot has come to fruition: Robbie and Gerwig were ‘extraordinary’, but neither was afforded a nomination. Apparently — it is claimed — the Academy didn’t understand the meaning and plot of Barbie. Really?! Did the Academy not understand? I find it more plausible that they did, but instead reached the logical conclusion that Robbie couldn’t be nominated because the category for Best Actress was exceptionally strong this year. Each nominee for Best Actress was, of course, ‘extraordinary’. Yet Barbie fans were effectively claiming that one of those lead actresses should be dropped in order for Robbie to have her seat at the table. The internet became so wrapped up in and divided by this nonsensical issue that the importance of an arguably far more notable Academy decision was neglected: Ferrera herself was nominated. Not only was a female rewarded for her role in Barbie, but the eighth ever Latina woman to be nominated for Best Supporting Actress at that. 

Moreover, whilst Gerwig may not have been nominated for Barbie, another female director — Justine Triet — has been nominated for her work on Anatomy of a Fall. I won’t deny that I would have loved to have seen two women nominated in a notoriously male-dominated category; but comedies are infamously hard to earn a nomination for, let alone win, Best Director. Barbie aside, in the Best Picture category, a record number of female filmmakers are up for the win. There is also the success of Lily Gladstone, the first-ever Native American woman to be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar. She has been pegged to win. Yet where is this media coverage? Where is the celebration of all these extraordinary women?

The Barbie film triumphantly managed to transcend the image of Barbie from a doll — famous predominantly for her tiny waist and excessive wardrobe— to a symbol of empowerment for women worldwide. A symbol of empowerment, and yet Barbie’s fans were so quick to tear down the success of others in order to give their glorified doll a platform. The cries and accusations of misogyny and anti-feminism over a film that reaped its awards through gross profits and eight Oscar nominations have inadvertently discredited the meaningful and important work of other women. That doesn’t exactly scream female empowerment. Perhaps Barbie’s own fans didn’t understand the meaning and plot of the film.

We have somehow morphed Barbie into our generation’s equivalent of The Feminine Mystique. I won’t deny the film’s feminist nature, but by heralding the film as a feminist godsend, we have subsequently equated any criticism of the film with an attack on women. At the end of the day, Barbie was just a phenomenally-written comedy funded by Mattel, the ‘Waystar Royco’ of the toy world. It may well have changed my July weekend, but it did not change my life. 

The tirade launched against the Academy displays how we, as a generation of digital natives and prosumers, have become adept at immediately calling out inequality in our system when it is presented— by means of memes, tweets and infographics. These simple actions can garner positive reactions and, in turn, change. However, the swiftness of our assault also means we often fail to analyse what we are actually trying to say — and what we are actually attacking. Many thought they were speaking out against the Academy’s unjust, unequal system. In reality, the arguments presented not only undermined the very nature of the feminist underpinning of the Barbie movie, but I believe undermined the very nature of feminism. 

I am not denying that the film showed Barbie to be so much more than “a plastic doll with big boobies,” as one failed Golden Globe host put it. Barbie can rest safely on its laurels knowing it was one of the most culturally impactful and profitable films of 2023. It doesn’t also need a participation prize in the form of a potentially undeserving Oscar nomination. As women, we have bigger battles to fight than demanding ten Oscar nominations instead of eight. I’m sorry, and please excuse the pun, but Kenough is Kenough.

Illustration by: Aimee Robbins

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