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The Bitter Irony of Barbie’s Oscar Nod

It should have been a red letter day for Greta Gerwig. Instead, it was sullied by a snub.

On January 23rd, the 96th annual Academy Awards nominees were to be announced, and Gerwig had every reason to expect a nomination for Best Director. But the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ voting members overlooked her work. Cut to a montage of fan and industry outrage. How could the Academy ignore one of the most visionary and successful directors of our time?

Barbie, directed and co-written by Gerwig in 2023, was a cinematic hat trick. The film earned rave reviews, record-breaking box-office success, and a place in the cultural conversation with its important message of female empowerment. The film dazzled pink-clad audiences with its stylized and subversive storytelling and musical numbers that felt like a party.

With a strong script in hand, Gerwig and producer Margot Robbie secured the resources to bring their satirical vision to life. They gathered a stellar team that earned Oscar nods for Production Design, Costume Design, and Best Original Song. Gerwig also elicited playful and nuanced performances from her cast, resulting in two more Oscar nominations for America Ferrera and Ryan Gosling, with the notable exclusion of Robbie.

In all, Barbie received eight Oscar nominations, including the coveted Best Picture. But Best Director was not one of them. And this is a familiar story.

Gerwig’s Little Women, a resplendent retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s beloved tale, received six Academy Award nominations in 2019. Her script added new layers of contemporary relevance to a timeless story and was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film immersed the viewer in a captivating world, with a brilliant cast, costumes, sound, and set design, and conveyed meaningful messages for our times. Despite being a Best Picture contender, Gerwig was overlooked for Best Director.

Gerwig’s response at the time expressed grace and gratitude in social media posts: “I am brimming with happiness—thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you (that’s six!) to the Academy.” She was rightfully proud of the film’s nominations. But she also hinted at the injustice of being overlooked as a director in one of Barbie’s powerful monologues delivered by America Ferrera: “Always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful.”

Gerwig could have made history as the first female to get two Best Director nominations, had she been recognized for her work for Little Women. She deserved to be a three-time nominee this year, breaking records and blazing trails with her films. But the Academy voters failed to celebrate her talent.

Gerwig is the highest-grossing female director of all time. As the highest-grossing film of 2023, Barbie pulled in over $1.4 billion at the box office. It was hailed by financial analysts and industry insiders as almost single-handedly saving Hollywood. And still, her vision and efforts did not earn her a Best Director nomination.

The Academy has a long, sad history of overlooking female directors. Only seven women have ever been nominated for Best Director, and only Kathryn Bigelow won, for The Hurt Locker in 2010.

Gerwig’s snub reflects the patriarchal bias she so masterfully dissected on screen, and which continues to pervade the film industry. Ironically, it appears a generation of Academy voters failed to grasp Barbie’s message.

-Ed Zareh and Melissa Zakri

Photo: Fair use image

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Ed Zareh is the playwright of “Long Lost John,” and co-creator (with Mary Clohan) of “Long Lost John: Drama Therapy,” a program supporting bereaved families, presented in partnership with COPE Foundation. Past writing credits include Second City This Week, UCB Comedy, and SNL Studios. He’s a frequent contributor to Culture Sonar.

1 comment on “The Bitter Irony of Barbie’s Oscar Nod

  1. Much as I admire Martin Scorsese’s work, I’d have been quite happy to see his nominations for The Irishman and Killers of the Flower Moon go instead to Greta Gerwig for Little Women and Barbie respectively.

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