When I was younger I would occasionally stand in front of the bathroom mirror, hairbrush in hand, practising my acceptance speech at the Oscars just after I had been announced as best actress (for a film I had also written and directed, naturally).
I would give a brief but heartfelt speech thanking the cast and crew, my family and of course my handsome movie star husband “without whom none of this would have been possible”. I would smile and wave, graciously accepting the cheers and applause of the audience, revelling in the moment before proudly leaving the stage – what a thrill…
Even though I am now grown up and my chances of winning an Academy Award are slim, my dream has never felt as far away from reality as it did after hearing this year’s nominations.
The Oppenheimer/Barbie boom (pun intended) dominated both the box office and social media following the release of both movies in July last year. Such was the buzz surrounding these two movies, cinemagoers were even inspired to get ‘dolled’ up to go and watch Barbie or ‘suited and booted’ to see Oppenheimer. ‘Barbenheimer’ became more than just two summer film releases – it was a genuine cultural phenomenon and garnered unprecedented interest for two movies which happened to have been released at the same time but which covered profoundly different subject matter.
So, when I read that Margot Robbie (who played Barbie, in case the whole Barbenheimer thing passed you by) did not make the shortlist for best actress and Greta Gerwig failed to be shortlisted in the best director category following Tuesday’s announcement of this year’s Oscar nominations, my gast was utterly flabbered.
Conversely, Oppenheimer bros Cillian Murphy and Christopher Nolan each received nominations in their respective fields (best actor for Ireland’s own Murphy, and best director for Nolan) for their atomic hit.
I am in no way seeking to take the gloss off Murphy’s superb performance - he absolutely deserves the nomination – but to overlook both the lead actress and the director of 2023′s highest grossing film seems like the sort of thing Ken would have dreamed up.
Evidently I wasn’t alone in my views. X users immediately made their disappointment clear, accusing the Academy of, among other things, sexism. It’s hard to disagree – as my old French teacher used to say, once is an accident, twice is a coincidence but three times is a pattern…
This is perhaps the biggest snub of all for Gerwig who, although previously Oscar-nominated for her hot streak of widely acclaimed films Lady Bird (2017) and Little Women (2019), is yet to win an Academy Award.
I wonder if the Academy has fallen into the trap of thinking that just because Barbie is based on the adventures of a young girls’ toy, it’s frothy and inconsequential. Yet this is an important film – one which seeks to take gender biases and turn them on their head while simultaneously advocating for better equality and understanding on the pressures faced by women. Depressingly, Barbie’s omission further proves the very point it is trying to address.
Looking at the movies which have been shortlisted for best director, there are common themes of death, violence and destruction, all woven against the usual backdrop of tension and drama – the dark and gritty certainly prevail.
Take Poor Things, for example. Like Barbie it is a movie which centres around a woman who has been ‘manufactured’ and is attempting to find her way in the world albeit with the added sex scenes, violence and controversy that it appears are necessary to fit the mould of an Oscar-worthy film.
The Academy traditionally seems to sideline lighter, more comedic films. Although Barbie is primarily a fantasy comedy it is also an insightful, sensitive and ground-breaking piece of cinema which has charmed audiences around the world, making viewers laugh, cry and cheer (sometimes all at the same time). It’s my view that Barbie is not only a charming, feel-good movie – it’s also pure escapism, and that’s what I most often want from a trip to the cinema.
However, as Barbie herself discovers, sometimes it’s difficult to acknowledge that something beautiful and funny can also have impact and importance. The Academy has misjudged this one.