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Why the ‘Barbie’ Oscars snubs are so enraging

Trailer for Greta Gerwig's Barbie
Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Voters are throwing the film a bone by nominating the actress who delivered an oft-quoted but fairly brief monologue about womanhood while ignoring the women who created the whole damn movie.

Editor's note: Sara Stewart is a film and culture writer who lives in western Pennsylvania. The views expressed here are her own. View more opinion on CNN.

(CNN) — Looks like it’s going to be the Mojo Dojo Casa Oscars. (Again.)

Tuesday’s Oscar nominations included eight nods for “Barbie,” the highest-grossing movie of the year — but none for director Greta Gerwig, who created its singular, wildly popular vision, or lead actress Margot Robbie, who was, you know, Barbie. It’s a forehead-slapping pair of snubs that perfectly reflect the movie’s central premise: Patriarchy is baked into every aspect of our culture, and it’s exhaustingly hard for women to get a fair shake.

“Barbie” (whose distributor shares a parent company with CNN) got nods for best picture, best supporting actress (America Ferrera) and best supporting actor (Ryan Gosling), among others. (“Oppenheimer,” the other half of Barbenheimer, meanwhile, predictably scored nods for director Christopher Nolan and lead actor Cillian Murphy among its 13 nominations.)

Think back to the movie moment where Writer Barbie (Alexandra Shipp) accepts the Nobel Prize in Barbieland with a concise speech: “Thanks. I deserve this!” The line is funny and striking and a little sad because it’s almost unheard of for actual women to make declarations like this. It was also delightful to imagine Gerwig and Robbie quoting it at the Oscars, because of course they would both at least be nominees if not winners. Right?

It’s worth noting that Robbie was nominated as a producer for “Barbie” and Gerwig was nominated for best adapted screenplay, but that doesn’t alter how enraging this all is. There are so many reasons to feel incredulous: Gerwig (who was nominated as best director for “Lady Bird” but was likewise snubbed for “Little Women”) set a new record for highest-grossing female-directed film at the domestic box office, for god’s sake. And yes, the Academy has always seemed slightly allergic to mainstream, feel-good hits, but “Barbie” felt poised to clear that hurdle with its sheer cross-generational appeal. Who didn’t love the movie, besides reactionary right-wing dorks?

Social media quickly lit up with outrage over the slights. Author Brad Meltzer summed it up nicely: “Nominating Ken but not Barbie is literally the plot of the movie.” Stephen King weighed in. This is not to suggest Gosling doesn’t deserve a nod. He was great, as was Ferrera. But it’s hard not to suspect that voters are throwing the film a bone by nominating the actress who delivered an oft-quoted but fairly brief monologue about womanhood while ignoring the woman who created the whole damn movie.

As Gosling put it in a statement to CNN, “I am extremely honored to be nominated by my colleagues alongside such remarkable artists in a year of so many great films. And I never thought l’d being saying this, but I’m also incredibly honored and proud that it’s for portraying a plastic doll named Ken. But 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.”

I’ve always been struck by the dissonance between the best picture and best director categories. This happens every year now, because there are twice as many pictures nominated as directors. But this instance seems particularly egregious. Every frame of “Barbie” feels like a Gerwig creation, a sunny yet subversive take on an iconic aspect of American girlhood. You cannot separate director and picture here. Or I guess you can, but it sure as hell doesn’t mean you should.

There’s just one woman (always just one, if that) nominated in the best director category. This year it’s Justine Triet for “Anatomy of a Fall.” And with no disrespect to that highly acclaimed movie, it’s a small film that most people haven’t seen. “Barbie,” on the other hand, was a colossus. And a colossus that pointed out, with glee, that men under the sway of patriarchy (which may or may not have something to do with horses) are deluded and backwards. It’s tempting to imagine that it feels fine to the Oscars voters to have one woman represented in the directing category: See, they didn’t shut women out!

But the history of the Academy Awards is crowded with examples of female directors being denied the nomination. They didn’t even have a female nominee until almost five decades into the tradition — and then, another 20 years went by before another woman (Jane Campion) would score a nod. Triet, shockingly, is only the eighth woman EVER NOMINATED in this category. For a 96-year-old ceremony. And, of course, there has never been more than one in a single year. As the twice-snubbed director Marielle Heller has said, “…the world doesn’t know how to handle more than one good female director at a time.” Which seems to be as true as ever this year; in addition to Gerwig, Oscar voters shut out Celine Song, director of the best picture-nominated “Past Lives.”

Earlier this year, when the world was abuzz over the newly released “Barbie,” Gerwig offered her thoughts on what it could mean for gender parity. “My hope for the movie is that it’s an invitation for everybody to be part of the party and let go of the things that aren’t necessarily serving us as either women or men,” she told the New York Times. Maybe next year!

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Barbie Brings Representation & Inclusivity to the Real World

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