“Did this film direct itself?”
When a female-directed film that received critical acclaim and box-office success was nominated in several Oscar categories — including best picture, but not best director — that was the question that had people buzzing.
But this wasn’t Barbie, and the director wasn’t Greta Gerwig. This was 1992, when Barbra Streisand’s directorial snub for The Prince of Tides was seen as so controversial that Billy Crystal called it out in his opening song at the 64th annual Academy Awards, crooning, “Seven nominations on the shelf/Did this film direct itself?”
WATCH | Billy Crystal criticizes Barbra Streisand’s Oscars snub:
More than 30 years later, many are asking the same question after Gerwig’s Barbie, the undisputed box-office leader for 2023, received eight nominations Tuesday but was passed over for best director, as well as best lead actress for Barbie herself (Margot Robbie). Rubbing salt in the wound for fans of the film that skewered the patriarchy was the fact that Ryan Gosling was nominated for best supporting actor for playing Ken.
Memes and reactions quickly made their way around the internet, many of them calling out the snub for being a little too on-the-nose. Former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton even chimed in Wednesday.
“Greta & Margot, While it can sting to win the box office but not take home the gold, your millions of fans love you. You’re both so much more than Kenough,” Clinton wrote on X, formally know as Twitter.
Greta & Margot,<br><br>While it can sting to win the box office but not take home the gold, your millions of fans love you. <br><br>You’re both so much more than Kenough.<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/HillaryBarbie?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#HillaryBarbie</a>
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.”
As the reactions, and the reactions to the reactions, keep flooding online, some are wondering: if Barbie couldn’t shatter the patriarchy, what can?
“A woman could do everything right but the patriarchy will find something wrong,” wrote one person in a TikTok video reacting to the snub that racked up more than 2.4 million views.
“They’ve lost the entire plot,” wrote another person in a video with 1.1 million likes.
Not serious enough?
Since the Oscars’ inception in 1929, only three women have ever taken home the award for best director: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2009, Chloé Zhao for Nomadland in 2020, and Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog in 2021.
And while this year’s nominations include a female director — Justine Triet for Anatomy of a Fall — she’s one of only eight to ever be nominated. Among that short list of female nominees is Gerwig — again, not for Barbie, but for Lady Bird in 2018.
The difference with Barbie, says Lisa Coulthard, a professor of cinema and media studies in the department of theatre and film at the University of British Columbia, could be the same problem Barbie herself encounters in the film: it’s not considered “serious” enough.
“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,” Coulthard told CBC News.
“But the way ‘serious’ is determined is highly gendered and this, I think, is a major example of that.”
Coulthard points to Poor Things as an example. The movie about a young woman brought back to life by an unorthodox scientist received 11 nominations, including best picture, best actress (Emma Stone) and best director (Yorgos Lanthimos).
“Poor Things and Barbie are the same movie in some ways — a female automaton comes into consciousness and recognizes patriarchy for what it is. So it’s not that Barbie isn’t serious when we consider it that way,” she said.
As Rolling Stone put it, maybe Barbie was “too girly to be considered a serious directorial effort.”
Old boys’ network
In 1992, when Streisand was snubbed for The Prince of Tides, Harriet Silverman, executive director of the advocacy group Women in Film, told the Los Angeles Times “the old boys’ network is alive and well in Hollywood.”
“Here people are lauding [Oscar-nominated lead actor] Nick Nolte’s work, but he didn’t direct himself. How can they possibly rave about her star and not credit her?”
Thirty-two years later, the advocacy group posted on Instagram that it had “no words,” while sharing multiple articles about Gerwig and Robbie’s snubs. On X, Women in Film wrote “despite today’s Oscar snubs, don’t forget to congratulate the women that are still making history.”
But is there still an old boys’ network? Many have argued so. The Academy Award for directing is chosen by the academy’s directors’ branch, which, as the New York Times points out, is about 75 per cent male, a “highbrow” group “the most likely to reject mainstream studio fare.”
In 2020, a year in which not one female director was included among the nominations, Time wrote that “diversity may be growing in the Academy as a whole, but the directors’ branch hasn’t necessarily reached parity.”
And a new report from San Diego State University called The Celluloid Ceiling, which has tracked women’s employment in film for 26 years, notes that women accounted for just 14 per cent of the directors working on the 100 top-grossing films in 2023, and just 16 per cent of the top 250.
“While Greta Gerwig’s Barbie reigned supreme as the number one box office film, women remained dramatically underrepresented as directors,” the report said.
“Greta Gerwig’s well-deserved triumph belied the gender inequality that pervades the mainstream film industry.”
That inequality is, perhaps, why so many fans and critics aren’t just baffled by Gerwig’s exclusion from best director, but Gosling’s nod for best supporting actor.
“Ken getting nominated and Barbie not is literally what the film is about,” Coulthard told CBC News.