The Oscars social media frenzy fundamentally misunderstands ‘Barbie’Reading Time: 6 minutes
Is this what we’re ‘made’ for?
Hillary Clinton is back on the campaign trail — not for the presidency, but in the pursuit of Oscars justice for Greta Gerwig, Margot Robbie, and 2023’s Barbie.
Fellow soldiers include horror writer Stephen King, pioneering athlete Billie Jean King, actor John Stamos, and… the founder of common sense gun reform group Moms Demand Action, Shannon Watts.
You might be wondering how all these minds came together to agree that the Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Actress should include the billion-dollar icons. Yesterday (Jan. 23), after a measly eight nominations were announced for the blockbuster, mass hysteria took hold of fans of the film.
To many, the omission of Gerwig and Robbie’s names felt like a slap in the face — an obvious, maybe even intentional, ‘snub’ to the most popular movie of the year. It seemed to rub people the wrong way given the pro-woman, feminist messaging of the film, especially as co-star Ryan Gosling picked up a nomination for his role as Barbie’s Ken. It should be noted that Gerwig received a nomination alongside her co-writer Noah Baumbach for Best Adapted Screenplay and Robbie for Best Picture as the executive producer of Barbie. The Academy awarded the other star of the film, America Ferrera, with a nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Following the Oscars announcement, others recoiled at the Barbie attention, some arguing that the film itself wasn’t deserving of Academy consideration and that the fans were out of touch or victims of Mattel’s marketing. More importantly, the contingent pointed out that it distracted from Lily Gladstone’s historic Best Actress nomination for Killers of the Flower Moon, Justine Triet’s place on the Best Director list for Anatomy of a Fall, and the lack of spots for women of color.
Fans hurt over their favorite director and actress being overlooked got quickly twisted up with a misinterpretation of Barbie and the deployment of social justice language in favor of the film, leading to the most universally discussed drama on Twitter/X in a while, reminiscent of the platform’s glory days.
MediaDownloader’s culture and tech reporter Elena Cavender and social good reporter Chase DiBenedetto dive into the pink haze that’s swept over the internet. Again.
What’s going on in Barbieland?!
Elena: When I logged on yesterday morning post-Oscar nominations, I expected to be commiserating with fellow members of Charles Melton nation. What I didn’t expect was a Barbie meltdown.
Chase: And I certainly didn’t anticipate former presidential nominee Hillary Clinton posting to the grid about Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie. #HillaryBarbie.
Elena: Clinton just rode the coattails of a 24-hour nonstop posting session by Barbie fans. Cast members Gosling and Simu Liu both posted in what they must have deemed necessary solidarity with Gerwig and Robbie.
Chase: It’s not entirely surprising, since rallying around your favorite movies of the year picking up, or losing out on, Oscars nominations is part of awards season culture. But I think we agree this particular fervor feels different, possibly because of the varying interpretations of the film (and Gerwig’s intent) and some cultural trends that took over 2023.
Elena: When Barbie first came out, Ferrera’s now Oscar-nominated monologue about the plight of women became a point of debate. Critics took issue with its simplicity, calling it ‘Feminism 101,’ while others saw it as articulating something important.
There was further friction among viewers over Ken’s centrality to the film and its inherent consumerism, being produced by a toy company and all.
Chase: The debate became, What is Barbie‘s feminist message? Is it doing enough? The Oscars announcement simply revived those sides.
I think the news also rekindled 2023’s focus on ‘universal girlhood,’ which we criticized for its narrow views of what it means to be a woman and its focus on consuming products rather than building community.
Elena: Girlhood and the anger around Barbie‘s nominations are part of a larger issue of gender essentialism pervading culture and debate. To not like Barbie is to be a ‘pick me’; to defend the Academy’s choices is to be ‘anti-woman’; to criticize Mattel’s choices is to be a killjoy instead of ‘just a girl’; to like Barbie is to be ‘cringe.’
Chase: Yep. Exacerbating that is a wider trend of people online conflating the media we consume and the things we like with our personal identities and our politics.
Elena: This insistence on the films we enjoy being a stand-in for our personalities makes the Oscars consequential on a personal level, leading to the heated discussions we’re seeing.
Chase: People need their favs validated now more than ever. And they see the Oscars as representative of cultural agreement.
Elena: Which is frankly revisionist history.
The 2024 Academy Awards is still a win.
Chase: Using Gerwig’s lack of nomination as the sole feminist criticism of the Academy and its voters is strange, too. As Variety reported, this year marks a record-breaking achievement for women directors, with the most Best Picture nominations for women-directed films (Barbie, Anatomy of a Fall, and Past Lives) in Awards history.
Robbie also pulled a historic nomination as a producer of Barbie, and Gerwig pulled her third Best Picture nomination in her relatively short career as a director. Two Black women were nominated for Best Supporting Actress (Danielle Brooks of The Color Purple and Da’Vine Joy Randolph of The Holdovers), and the Best Actress list got its first Indigenous American woman, Gladstone, leading the predicted wins. According to a USC study published in 2023, only 0.14 percent of Oscar nominations have gone to Indigenous creatives (that’s just 19 people). Only three have won an award at all.
Elena: But these wins are being overshadowed by outrage. In a perfect encapsulation of the danger of this type of thinking, LA Times columnist Mary McNamara wrote, ‘If only Barbie had done a little time as a sex worker. Or barely survived becoming the next victim in a mass murder plot. Or stood accused of shoving Ken out of the Dream House’s top window.’
McNamara manages to dismiss the exploration of womanhood in Poor Things, Anatomy of a Fall, and Killers of the Flower Moon in one fell swoop, a feat that is more offensive than Gerwig not getting nominated. Instead of celebrating diverse stories, she places all films about women in competition with each other, implying that it’s not the exploration of genocide, but a movie about a toy, that is the most important.
And her comments are what everyone sounds like online!
Chase: This mentality is also ignoring the many women of color who were genuinely snubbed of nominations in their respective categories. Celine Song, director of Best Picture nominee Past Lives, and its star Greta Lee didn’t pull any individual nominations, despite their critical buzz. The cast of The Color Purple, a story about the abuse and liberation of Black women, only garnered one nomination: Danielle Brooks for Best Supporting Actress.
Elena: Not to mention, if we are all so up in arms about dismissing stories of ‘girlhood,’ where is the love for Sofia Coppola’s haunting Priscilla and the moving coming-of-age story Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It’s the year of the girl only when it’s your favorite movie or when corporations are involved, right?
Chase: To be upset at a single woman’s dismissal in the grand scheme of things, within a race packed with history-making nominations and a year of great women-led films, is plain weird. It’s also doing a disservice to Ferrera, who received her first Oscar nomination (adding to the small 1.7 percent of Hispanic and Latino nominees) over a long career defined by telling women’s stories.
Elena: Fans weaponized her aforementioned monologue to point to the ‘injustice’ of Gerwig and Robbie’s snubs, which is a misunderstanding of the monologue and the film’s politics.
Chase: Barbie would not be down for all of this. The monologue argues that women should be allowed complexity. They should be allowed to make mistakes and push back against the systems in place for them. But even more to the point, the film itself isn’t championing simple gender parity. The role reversal in Barbieland, where girls just do everything that we expect boys to do and vice versa, leads to more problems than it solves. Applying the logic of OG Barbieland to the Oscars — arguing that more women should just be grabbing awards that have always gone to men and leaving it at that — is ignoring a larger political and historical reality. You’re replacing the horses with gold statues.
Elena: Did we all forget about #OscarsSoWhite? There was a point where we were collectively boycotting the institution itself. Now, we are once again reducing women’s work to the attention of bodies of white men.
Chase: What can we expect from a body that is still 80-percent white men, doesn’t even historically award comedies, and is generally not focused on the blockbuster success of its entries — unlike the recent shifts at other awards shows.
Don’t forget about the big money of it all.
Elena: When it comes down to it, there are truly no sides to this. It’s just us versus Mattel, and we should do everything in our power not to align ourselves with massive corporations.
Chase: I think it’s fair to point out the irony of a year-defining movie going unrecognized, if that’s really what was going on here. But the film earned a billion dollars and broke records for Gerwig as director and Robbie as producer, earned acclaim in other awards bodies, and is still Oscar-nominated, eight times — the fourth most-nominated film of the awards.
The ire over these specific categories is simply garnering more attention and industry authority on behalf of Mattel, which, don’t forget, is planning on turning all of its toy products into feature length, money-making films.
Elena: With tie-in products and brand collaborations, if Barbie is anything to go off of. Mattel makes movies in pursuit of brainwashing viewers into more overconsumption.
We must dream of a better world where art is made for arts sake, and we no longer hold up systems of oppression. But we don’t have an Academy Award for that.
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