NICOLE RUSSELL: Oscar snubs for 'Barbie' are actually meritocracy at work

When it comes to coveted Oscar nominations, “Barbie” got snubbed this year. At least that’s the buzz online.

“History shows ‘Barbie’ not alone in Oscars snub,” an Axios headline read. People magazine jumped in on the conflict, “Oscars Expert Says Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig's Barbie Snubs 'Will Be Remembered for a Long Time'.” The New York Times called it a “bitterly ironic snub.” Even former Secretary of State  Hillary Clinton posted her outrage and regards on Instagram, saying “Greta and Margot, while it can sting to win the box office but not take home the gold, your millions of fans love you. You're so much more than Kenough.”

Here’s the problem. “Barbie” didn’t really get snubbed. In fact, in a lot of ways, the Oscar nomination process reflects one of the many points feminism often seeks to highlight: that women should be acknowledged and rewarded based on merit, not sex.

“Barbie” got nominated for the Oscar for Best Picture. Though director Greta Gerwig did not get nominated for Best Director, she and her partner Noah Baumbach were nominated for the category of Adapted Screenplay. America Ferrera received a best supporting actress nomination and two songs got nominated in “Barbie,” including “What Was I Made For?” In total, “Barbie” received 8 Oscar nominations. For a film about a doll, that sounds like a success.

So why isn’t anyone talking about this? What’s with the faux outrage?

People seemed most upset that Margot Robbie didn’t receive an Oscar nomination for her role as the main character while Ryan Gosling, who played Ken, did. Was the point of “Barbie,” with its open and harsh critique of the patriarchy actually ignored in favor of perpetuating recognition of ---- the patriarchy?  Gerwig, who directed “Little Women,” also was not nominated for Best Director.

There’s likely a couple things going on. The Oscar nomination process is subjective. For reasons we may never know, or can only guess, Margot Robbie was passed over. Other actresses, like Emma Stone and Emily Blunt were deemed, in the eyes of the members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is simply a group of industry professionals, better. They did a better job of executing the role of the particular character in that film. Perhaps the same thought process was applied to Gerwig. Maybe some politics does happen at that level of voting, maybe it’s truly about merit. On its face, that’s what Oscar nominations are supposed to be about.

But there’s something more going on here too, at least when it comes to the reaction to the so-called “Barbie” snubs. It's a contradiction that’s almost always at the core of any kind of endeavor that attempts to be overtly feminist: Women can never decide if they want to be recognized for just being women or if they want to be recognized for being great.

Whatever you thought about “Barbie,” and there were a myriad of takes when the film came out about its deeper meaning, whether it was about female empowerment, or it wasn’t, whether it was a blistering takedown of the patriarchy or it wasn’t, these are all topics or angles that Gerwin was at least trying to expose or allow her audience to experience and think about. This can be a good thing for audiences but perhaps it was too direct?

On Roger Ebert’s website, reviewer Christy Lemire observed, after applauding the film’s production and Robbie’s performance. “It’s impossible not to admire how Gerwig is taking a big swing with heady notions during the mindless blockbuster season, but she offers so many that the movie sometimes stops in its propulsive tracks to explain itself to us—and then explain those points again and again.”

Later, Lemire says, that while she agreed with Ferrara’s character’s famous speech about how hard it is to handle the juxtaposition of womanhood, “the longtime film critic in me found this moment a preachy momentum killer—too heavy-handed, too on-the-nose, despite its many insights.”

This insight could be playing out in the world of Oscar nominations. Perhaps too many in the Academy thought that nominating the women for being women, in a film celebrating womanhood, was too sexist after all? In fact, it sounds like they opted to nominate those who they deemed had done the best work. This was the whole point of the first wave of feminism, to put women on equal legal and societal footing as men, because we are in fact all created equal. A woman who wants recognition for a feat because she’s the first woman doing something is also giving in to the sexism she says she hates.

Even still, audiences loved “Barbie.  It was a box office smash, garnering $1.45 billion worldwide, a feat in and of itself. If women want to be celebrated for their skill, intelligence, and accomplishments, then “Barbie,” is still a success, not a failure. Complaining that it got snubbed for Oscars because the two women at the forefront didn’t get nominated demonstrates that people still want women to be recognized for being women, not for their merit alone. In many ways, isn’t that exactly the antithesis of “Barbie”? 
 

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