No One Is Acting Normal About Barbie

Though, to be fair, has anyone ever acted normal about this movie?

No One Is Acting Normal About Barbie
Photo:Warner Bros.

Girls, get out your pots and pans: The Academy did not nominate Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie for an Oscar in their respective categories and the threat of Women’s March 2.0 seemingly looms large. The backlash from these snubs (Robbie for Best Actress and Gerwig for Best Director) has even escalated to the highest office of white woman affairs. On Wednesday afternoon, Hillary Clinton tweeted that both Gerwig and Robbie are “more than Kenough.” Excuse me while I Kend my own life.

Ryan Gosling released a statement condemning the snub, as did America Ferrera and Mark Ronson. Swifties have taken up the cause. John Stamos of all people has demanded a recount! While I am not entirely surprised, it feels urgent to declare that absolutely no one is acting normal about any of this.

Especially because Barbie was nominated in eight categories on Tuesday, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Ryan Gosling), Best Supporting Actress (America Ferrera), and Best Screenplay. To say the film was not recognized is false. But folks are taking issue specifically with Gerwig and Robbie’s names not gracing the shortlist for the ceremony’s top honors and frankly, it’s a self-serving, overblown reaction to something that happens almost every year.

Let me preface this by offering my truth: I enjoyed Barbie! I really did! I laughed; I was absolutely delighted by the imaginative production design and costuming (both of which are rightly nominated); I’ve listened to the soundtrack a humbling number of times. Overall, I thought it was a clever packaging of Feminism 101 by Warner Bros. and the world’s most profitable toy company, Mattel. Certainly, there is reason to be concerned if you thought the film was moving the needle on feminist thought—but for a summer blockbuster, it did a fun and entertaining job at bringing intro-feminism to the masses while making almost a billion and a half dollars. Pass the popcorn!

Of course, there was a lot that fell flat, too—a quality that doesn’t disqualify a film from a Best Director nom but also doesn’t help, particularly when it’s up against Martin Scorcese’s damningly well-rounded character assassination of whiteness (Killers of the Flower Moon) or Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things, where every single frame is an electrifying mashup of horror and delight. America Ferrera’s monologue about the work of women felt tonally misplaced, slapped on as an afterthought. The montage scene of real women at the end of the movie did surprisingly make me tear up, but it wasn’t any more cinematically masterful than that 2014 Coca-Cola “America the Beautiful” Super Bowl ad (which, for the record, also made me cry). And I still don’t entirely understand why Rhea Pearlman as Ruth Handler’s ghost was locked away in a break room at Mattel but that is OK. And to be honest, Margot Robbie did a very good job playing Barbie but her performance did not hold a candle to the nominees in the Best Actress category.

But fans are taking issue that the movie’s box office success and Best Picture nomination didn’t guarantee these two top-billed women nominations in their respective categories. A tweet that is getting the ol’ meme treatment scored these women’s plights to Taylor Swift’s “The Man” lyrics: I’m so sick of running as fast as I can/ Wondering if I’d get there quicker/ If I was a man. First of all, blockbuster success rarely translates to awards season, nor should it. A popular movie is not the same as a medium-defying work. See: Marvel movies, Jurassic Park, and the Fast and the Furious franchise.

Secondly, this happens all the time with the Oscars and…even to men! Gasp! Parasite won Best Picture in 2019 without any of its cast receiving acting nominations (Bong Joon Ho did win Best Director, however). Both of Bradley Cooper’s films—A Star is Born and Maestro—have been nominated for Best Picture in their respective years even while his eternal quest to be nominated for directing remains unrealized. In fact, this conundrum is concurrently happening to Celine Song and Greta Lee this year, the director and lead actress of Past Lives, a film also nominated for Best Picture and one that, frankly, did a remarkably restrained job at not beating its message over the audience’s head. I’m not saying that just because this has happened to other performers and directors, it isn’t worth getting upset over, I am just suggesting that folks who are sharpening their needles to knit pink pussy hats, ready to storm the Dolby Theater come March 10 might consider that this inconsistency isn’t just about them—a big ask of a certain brand of liberal feminism.

Speaking of other nominations this year, the Barbie outrage has overshadowed the fact that Lily Gladstone is the first-ever Native American nominated for Best Actress for her role in Killers of the Flower Moon. It’s also blowing past the Academy’s rightful recognition of Sandra Hüller and Justine Triet’s work on Anatomy of a Fall, which is, in my opinion, a vastly more complex and rewarding dissection of gender and the value and expectations of women’s role in society. Where’s Hillary Clinton’s congratulations for them?? Well, of course, her condolence tweet aimed at Gerwig and Robbie wasn’t even for them; it was a self-serving reminder of her unsuccessful 2016 presidential run capitalizing off of the outrage of a certain brand of liberal feminism. God forbid any of these women—Clinton or the throngs of fans who see this film’s snubs as an affront to feminism—zoom out from their own woes.

Barbie’s snubs are disappointing to some. Sure. But I’d argue that the out-of-proportion outrage fans are feeling highlights the film’s failure to convey a core tenet of feminism to its audience: A personal slight against some high-profile, privileged (white) women is not an affront to the gains of womanhood overall.

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