In her own world, Barbie can accomplish just about anything. But in the real world, “Barbie” was dealt a significant setback Tuesday morning: Though Greta Gerwig’s colorful comedy skewering the patriarchy was the biggest blockbuster of last year and set a record for the highest-grossing movie ever directed by a woman, Gerwig failed to receive an Oscar nomination for best director.
The snub had many in Hollywood scratching their heads, since the 40-year-old filmmaker had earned best director nominations from the Golden Globes and Directors Guild of America for “Barbie” and had picked up an Oscar nod for her solo debut, “Lady Bird,” just six years ago.
Ryan Gosling, Ken to Margot Robbie’s Barbie, criticized the academy’s vote even as he himself received an Oscar nomination. “No recognition would be possible for anyone on the film without their talent, grit and genius,” he said in a statement, referring to both Gerwig and Robbie, who missed out on a best actress nod. “To say that I’m disappointed that they are not nominated in their respective categories would be an understatement.”
Does the matter come down to simple sexism? Certainly, if it were not for the presence of Justine Triet, the “Anatomy of a Fall” filmmaker, among the directing nominees, the academy would have a lot more explaining to do. Oscar voters have long been accused of ascribing more importance to male-led stories, a bias the academy has tried to rectify in recent years by diversifying its ranks. Still, comedies often struggle to win favor with the Oscars, and a female-led comedy has even more hurdles to overcome, as Robbie found.
It’s worth noting that though “Barbie” had no trouble making it into the best picture category, which all members of the academy are permitted to vote on, the Gerwig snub was delivered by the directors branch, which is made up of just 587 voters, about a quarter of which are women. This highbrow group is by far the most likely to reject mainstream studio fare, as snubbed directors like Denis Villeneuve (for “Dune”) and Ben Affleck (“Argo”) have found out. Even Kathryn Bigelow wasn’t immune: The first woman to win the best director Oscar, for “The Hurt Locker,” she was dealt a surprising snub for her follow-up, “Zero Dark Thirty.” If there were any branch that would look askance at “Barbie” for being about a toy, it’s this one.
The academy has also grown much more international over the last decade, with members from 93 countries casting their ballots this year. That change has had a pronounced effect on the best director category, as three of this year’s nominees — Triet, Jonathan Glazer (“The Zone of Interest”) and Yorgos Lanthimos (“Poor Things”) — live and work primarily in Europe. That increasingly international bent probably squeezed out director Alexander Payne, a previous favorite of this branch, who would have become the most-nominated living filmmaker under 65 if “The Holdovers” had earned him a fourth directing nod.
Still, Gerwig has plenty to console herself with besides record-breaking box-office returns. She is now the first filmmaker in history to have her first three solo features — “Lady Bird,” “Little Women” and “Barbie” — nominated for best picture. It’s also possible that the sympathy generated by this snub could boost her fortunes in another category — most likely the adapted-screenplay race, where she and her husband, Noah Baumbach, were nominated against a strong field that includes Christopher Nolan for “Oppenheimer” but are now well-positioned to pick up their first wins.
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