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Why wasn’t Barbie (K)Enough?


Hi Barbie! Hi Barbie! Oh, hi Barbie!

It seems that Barbie is very much seen. But not quite heard.

The release of the Barbie movie took almost $1.3 billion at the worldwide box office. It was the highest grossing film of 2023 in North America. It became one of the only female-dominated movies among the top-grossing films of all time. Its success puts Barbie alongside history's top-20 films. It’s been nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture…

…But not Best Director or Best Actress.

Did the movie direct itself we wonder? Greta Gerwig’s vision not only makes our childhood Barbie dreams come to life, but she manages to convey that knowledge is power and self-knowledge can become your superpower. She deeply explores the gendered social phenomenon of women being expected to give up childhood joys and sacrifice for others. Barbie shows that women don't have to surrender their imagination and can find empowerment and joy in childhood toys. The moral is empowering. In a world where body shaming and insecurities run rampant, Barbie offers insights into overcoming such challenges. The movie depicts various characters who have to navigate their own insecurities and how they come up stronger in the end. Movie fans were drawn into these themes by its cast, led perfectly by Barbie, played by Margot Robbie. And yet, both Gerwig and Robbie have been forgotten in the Oscar nods.

Maybe because it’s about dolls? And Robbie is just playing a doll?

Not so fast, there…

Ryan Gosling who plays Ken - ALSO a doll - has been nominated for Best Supporting Actor. He’s terrific in the movie. If anybody could bring tanned plastic abs to life, make us laugh and raise topical questions, it’s Mr G. But as one user on X, formerly known as Twitter, comments, “Kind of proves the point of the movie,” that the patriarchy is still with us. 

Ryan Gosling released a statement expressing his disappointment that Gerwig and Robbie weren't nominated in their respective categories, noting “there is no Ken without Barbie, and there is no Barbie movie without Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, the two people most responsible for this history-making, globally celebrated film.” It particularly feels like a punch in the stomach when you realise that Ken’s big musical number in the movie is called ‘I’m Just Ken’ with the lyrics that follow being, ‘and I’m enough.’ So, what about Barbie? And her visionary creator? Two talented women working fiercely and tirelessly to make this history-making box office cinematic smash? Were they not enough? 

It’s tricky. Plenty of incredible performances and creators miss out on prestigious award nominations and wins every year. Ever since 1929, the Oscars have honoured some of our greatest cinematic performances and films, but there’s often public and industry uproar. Epic films, genius directors and iconic superstars have been completely ignored by the Academy. Movie titans such as Tom Cruise, Michelle Pfeiffer and Samuel L. Jackson don’t have a single win among them. Forgotten films defeated adored masterpieces for Best Picture. Christmas classic ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ lost in 1947 to ‘The Best Years of Our Lives’. The number one spot on IMDb’s Top 250 Movies is ‘The Shawshank Redemption’, and has been for years, but guess what? That movie received no awards at all. Oscars expert Noah Isenberg says, “There are so many factors that go into choosing a winner beyond aesthetic greatness. You have to remember tastes are subjective and individual, and certain films accrue value in time.”

Barbie has no doubt earned its place in movie-lovers hearts and is almost certain to be loved way into the future. Greta Gerwig might be constantly overlooked by The Academy (losing out on Best Director for Lady Bird and not even getting nominated for Little Women), but she understands and presents deep ideas in entertaining but thought-provoking ways. She understands modern audiences and treats her viewers with a level of intelligence. While on the surface her film's most relatable themes target a female demographic, it becomes clear they are universal stories that can be appealing to anyone. But is the problem, Barbie itself? Is it not serious enough for the Oscars? Perhaps too many members of the Academy saw it as a kids movie (it was not) or an opportunity for a Barbie merchandise boom (Mattel sales grew 9.3% to $1.92 billion). Lisa Coulthard, a professor of cinema at the University of British Columbia told CBC News, “Commercial success doesn't necessarily translate into Oscar nominations and Barbie is the kind of movie often snubbed as not 'serious' enough for the Oscars. But the way 'serious' is determined is highly gendered and this, I think, is a major example of that."

Women still have to fight to be seen and respected in Hollywood. A recent TikTok video racked up more than 2.4 million views speaking of Gerwig and Robbie’s snub, saying, “A woman could do everything right but the patriarchy will find something wrong.” Another female director to miss out on an Oscar nod this year is Celine Song for her beautiful movie, ‘Past Lives.’ The lead actress, Greta Lee, puts in a thoughtful, layered performance, and just like Margot Robbie, has been snubbed. In another similarity to Barbie, ‘Past Lives’ has been nominated for Best Picture, so we ask again, did the movie direct itself? In fact, only eight women have ever been featured in the Best Director category. Then again, The Holdovers, a heartwarming and poignant story set in 1970 and starring Best Actor nominee Paul Giamatti, has been nominated for Best Picture without a nomination for its director, the double Oscar-winning Alexander Payne. His work is astounding, and still, he was overlooked.

We have to ask, what would the Oscars be without controversy and drama? Whether it’s John Travolta calling Idina Menzel “Adele Dazeem” or the wrong Best Picture being announced because of a tampering with golden envelopes, the headlines are hot for Hollywood mishaps. If Jennifer Lawrence doesn’t fall up the stairs, somebody else will. Even the host isn’t safe these days…if Will Smith is allowed in. Has the most glittering night in Tinseltown become a circus? Does it really matter if the A-list take home a golden statuette? Some will argue that there are bigger problems in the world to get concerned about. Which is true. Still, some scandal of a lighter (and pinker) nature can certainly be welcomed amidst the sadness in today’s cruel world. 

We must celebrate Barbie’s phenomenal eight nominations, including Best Supporting Actress for America Ferrera who delivered THAT monologue. She spoke to every single woman personally as her character Gloria says to her daughter and a group of Barbies, “I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us,” (written by Greta Gerwig). And Margot Robbie has stated she that there are no hard feelings as there is “no reason to feel sad” because she is “beyond ecstatic” at Barbie’s eight nominations. So, let’s see what happens on the big night. Whatever the outcome, it will be sure to get us all talking.


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