Was it Ken-ough? On Barbie’s Oscars snub

Oscar nominations have finally arrived to much buzzing anticipation — but many are not happy. The online furore at the perceived snub for Barbie’s Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie has been intense. Leading the charge is Ryan Gosling: though nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role as ‘Ken’, he has made clear his disappointment that the key women involved in the smash hit were not similarly recognised. He wrote in a statement, ‘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.’ Further outcries have been made across the industry. Many celebrities noted how life imitated art, with the female filmmaker and actress being snubbed, but the male star celebrated. Incredibly, former U.S. presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has also chimed in, calling Greta and Margot ‘more than Kenough’ and pioneering the hashtag #HillaryBarbie. 

However, was this really a ‘snub’? Yes, Barbie was a massive hit, bringing in an astounding $1.4 billion worldwide as the highest-grossing movie of 2023; its feminist message should also certainly be celebrated. But let’s note that Barbie didn’t leave empty-handed, receiving an impressive eight nominations including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor. In addition, the Oscars always nominates five people for best director and ten movies for best picture, which means that just statistically, there would be some great movies excluded from the list. 

It’s also important to note that Gosling’s Best Supporting Actor nomination is not equivalent to a nomination for Robbie, which would place her in the Best Lead Actress category, a far more competitive field — all the Best Actresses this year (Emma Stone, Lily Gladstone, Sandra Hüller, Annette Bening and Carey Mulligan) were excellent in their respective films. And if we’re talking about ‘snubs’, what of other incredible women of colour who should have been recognised too? Past Lives, a beautifully understated film about love, loss, and regret with a slight cult hype, was nominated for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay; however, its director and writer, Celine Song, and its star, Greta Lee, were notably absent from Best Director and Best Actress respectively. Moreover, all this talk of Barbie has overshadowed some tremendous achievements. We should definitely be celebrating Lily Gladstone as the first-ever Native American nominated for Best Actress, and the fact that a historic three of the Best Picture films were directed by women. Focusing instead on a film made by and starring white women which has earned immense commercial success completely diminishes these other historical firsts.

Worse, some of the discourse surrounding the Barbie ‘snub’ has been quite un-feminist. In Mary McNamara’s column in the LA Times, she muses, ‘If only Barbie had done a little time as a sex worker. Or barely survived becoming the next victim in a mass murder plot. Or stood accused of shoving Ken out of the Dream House’s top window.’ Although the sentiment is directed at the Academy for purportedly disregarding Barbie because the eponymous character didn’t undergo enough hardship, McNamara’s comments seem to diminish the roles of other Best Actress nominees. Calling Killers of the Flower Moon a ‘mass murder plot’ severely downplays the critical themes of racism and genocide masterfully tackled by the film. And in one final, cruel twist of irony, America Ferrera, nominated for Supporting Actress for Barbie, too expressed her disappointment over the Gerwig and Robbie snubs. But to no one’s surprise, everyone decided to focus on Gosling’s comments instead. Did someone say something about women being ignored?

It is fascinating that a film that is essentially a feature-length toy advertisement has been able to market itself as synonymous with feminism. Whilst the obvious response to right-wing backlash to Barbie à la Ben Shapiro is to celebrate the film’s progressive aspects, it is still important to remember that the gender politics of Barbie are not groundbreaking. A cynical reading of the film would argue that it toes the line between popcorn-munching bombast and Oscar-worthy acting, but fundamentally boils down to a wish to sell merchandise and grow the bottom line of greedy corporates. Personally, I think Barbie has sparked a great deal of much-needed conversations and really changed how some women are viewed and view themselves. But let’s not give it too much credit. In a year with some incredible movies and acting, it is difficult to argue that Gerwig and Robbie should have replaced anyone who was nominated, particularly the other incredible women who certainly deserve their accolades. Perhaps we’ve got to accept that Barbie was good, but it just wasn’t Ken-ough.