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A Rip in the Continuum: Barbie and the Oscars

Photo courtesy of Pexels/RDNE Stock project

The treatment Barbie received after Ken made changes to Barbie Land mimics the treatment that Robbie and so many other actresses face with the Academy. The 2024 Oscar nominations were announced recently, and Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig were not on the list of nominees. This was shocking because “Barbie,” directed by Gerwig and starring Robbie, amassed eight nominations.

Gerwig and Robbie having been snubbed  by the Oscars is confusing because the two gained nominations in other awards shows. They received Golden Globe nominations for their respective categories and, usually, the list of nominees remains the same.  

“Barbie”—released last July— follows the journey of Barbie, played by Robbie, as she navigates the real world and learns the hard truth about women and power. Along the way, Barbie is introduced to the range of emotions people experience regularly, which contrasts with the happy disposition of Barbie Land. The complicated real world makes its way into Barbie Land, leaving Barbie feeling worthless. This is a direct result of Ken, played by Ryan Gosling, also learning how the real world is run predominantly by men. In Barbie Land, Ken’s job was to let Barbie shine. He had become increasingly dissatisfied with that role.

According to Oscar’s website, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a global organization with members representing their respective disciplines.  The organization is responsible for deciding who receives Oscar nominations and who ultimately wins through a member vote.

Gosling expressed his thoughts on the nominations in a statement released on his Instagram. He began by expressing his gratitude for the nomination but clarified that he did not condone Robbie and Gerwig having been left out of their respective categories. “No recognition would be possible for anyone on the film without their talent, grit, and genius,” Gosling said. 

America Ferrera, who received a nomination for her role in the film as a supporting actress, told Variety: “Perhaps people got fooled into thinking that the work seems easy, but Margot is a magician as an actress in front of the screen, and it was one of the honors of my career to get to witness her pull off the amazing performance she did.”

The idea that an actress’s performance is only award-worthy if it is emotionally extravagant causes actresses with subtle performances to get snubbed. Robbie’s ability to showcase someone feeling a wide range of emotions for the first time proved her caliber as an actress. Her ability to display Barbie’s inner conflict was particularly remarkable because it was so real. Her performance was focused more on relating to the audience members than performing.

Robbie responded to Deadline about the situation, sharing that she is grateful rather than sad not to have been nominated. “We set out to do something that would shift culture, affect culture, just make some sort of impact. And it’s already done that, and some, way more than we ever dreamed it would. And that is truly the biggest reward that could come out of all of this.” Robbie said.

Robbie’s response speaks to her character but also speaks to the expectation that women aren’t meant to complain when things happen to them. This is a concept seen across the entertainment industry. The industry has shunned Monique, a comedian, and actress after commenting on the unfair treatment she received from Oprah, Tyler Perry, and Lee Daniels throughout the making of the 2009 film “Precious”.

Oscar nominations have historically been complicated. In 2016, some actors boycotted the show because of the lack of diversity among nominees. This was the first time the Academy was openly criticized on such a large scale. Over the last decade, the Academy has expanded its eligibility requirements so that more of its members can participate in the voting process. This has helped some, but there is still more to be done. This is not an isolated issue. It is an issue that spans across the entertainment industry. A sentiment was shared by Jay-Z at the Grammys during his speech accepting the Dr. Dre Global Impact Award. “Even by your own metrics it doesn’t work,” he said.

If award shows keep missing the mark, there will be a continued outcry. The Oscars have seen a decrease in viewership in the last few years for a multitude of reasons. Oscar viewership has dropped from 29.6 million viewers pre-pandemic to 18.7 million viewers as of 2023, according to Statista. Viewership has decreased by 27.63 million people over the last 23 years and is continuing to trend downward. A potential reason for the decrease is the Oscar’s lack of diversity in who is recognized. When people don’t see themselves reflected on the screen, they walk away. An expansion in representation will only help the Oscars and the entertainment industry. The Oscars need to catch up before the world leaves it behind.

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