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Greta Gerwig’s Oscars Snub Should Come as No Surprise

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A person in a blue dress in front of a backdrop with the words "SFFILM" written on it.
Director and actress Greta Gerwig poses on the red carpet at the 2023 SFFILM Festival Awards at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023. Gerwig received the Irving M. Levin Award for Film Direction on Monday. (Juliana Yamada/ KQED)

This years’ Oscar nominations have arrived, and the most controversial snub by far is the exclusion of Greta Gerwig from the Best Director category for Barbie.

Last year, Gerwig pulled off the rare feat of making a movie both critically lauded and enormously commercially successful. (Barbie broke the opening-weekend record for North American movie theaters in 2023 with $162 million in ticket sales.) It was a visual and creative triumph which took a doll critiqued by feminists for decades and turned her into a patriarchy-smashing icon. Additionally, Barbie contributed significantly to the return of the monoculture in 2023; it impacted pop culture in so many indelible ways, it bordered on the obnoxious.

Still, it wasn’t enough for the Academy.

Not only was Gerwig passed over for Best Director, but Barbie herself, Margot Robbie, was left out of the Best Actress category. This despite Ryan Gosling and America Ferrera getting nods in the Best Supporting Actor and Actress categories. Movie lovers, including MSNBC’s Jennifer Palmieri, quickly took to social media to bemoan the snubs.

“Both Gerwig and Robbie ignored,” Palmieri posted on X. “It’s still so easy for Hollywood to overlook and discount artistic contributions of women — EVEN WHEN ITS THE POINT OF THE YEAR’S BIGGEST MOVIE! My God. It was nominated for best picture. Didn’t direct itself, friends!”


Is this an irritating turn of events? Yes. Did the Academy miss all of the (not-even-subtly-conveyed) lessons of the film, about the quiet injustices doled out to women due to sexism? Probably. Should any of us really be surprised? Despite Gerwig previously receiving a Best Director nomination for Lady Bird? Absolutely not.

The Academy has always been a law unto itself; it has historically favored white men doing white man things. When it comes to female directors getting their due, the most we can hope for is a little tokenism. Justine Triet is this year’s, for Anatomy of a Fall — and, in the Academy Awards’ entire 95-year history, she’s only the eighth woman to be nominated in the directing category. Just three of those have ever actually taken home the trophy: Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker in 2009, Chloé Zhao for Nomadland in 2020 and Jane Campion for The Year of the Dog in 2021.

Consider also the Academy’s maddening habit of doling out awards to established giants at the expense of younger talent. Do we really think Leonardo DiCaprio did better work in The Revenant (the movie he finally won for) than in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (the first movie he was nominated for)? Would you rather Martin Scorsese have an Oscar for Raging Bull or The Departed? Most would say the former, but the Academy made him wait 26 years. What we end up with are Oscars doled out because it’s time for a major figure to have one, rather than the actual work at hand or its cultural impact.

(Perhaps Greta Gerwig will finally get her statue 30 years from now for a movie that does moderate box office and gets film nerds talking. But there are no guarantees that even the highest echelons of female talent will get there in the end — Glenn Close has never won an Oscar, despite being nominated as an actress eight times in the past 40 years.)

The truth is, the Oscars have rarely — if ever — reflected the will of the people. (No, not even since they expanded the Best Picture category to 10 nominees in 2009.) For a while, it seemed, people were nearly done with the Academy Awards altogether. In 2016, the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite dominated social media after two years of every single nominee in lead and supporting acting categories being white. The fact that Beasts of No Nation, Straight Outta Compton and Creed were shut out of almost every category that year caused further ire.

During the many discussions around #OscarsSoWhite, Spike Lee, Will Smith and Michael Moore boycotted the Oscars. A recurring conversation emerged: Black women, in particular, were being ignored by the Academy. Only 11 Black women have ever won an Oscar, none for directing. Last year, after Angela Bassett’s loss to Jamie Lee Curtis, the Academy scrambled to correct its snafu by giving Bassett an honorary award a few months later.

The problem is, and always has been, who makes up the Academy. Consider this: Between 1929 and 2015, on average, only 16 percent of nominees in all Oscar categories were women. Why? As late as 2022, women only accounted for one third of Academy voters — and the number that year was 10 percent higher than the prior year. So I ask again: Is it really all that surprising that Greta Gerwig didn’t get a Best Director nod for Barbie?

The Academy is a mess that often finds itself woefully out of touch. Despite a variety of token efforts in the past decade, the Academy will continue to slip until women and people of color are appropriately represented in its ranks. For now, Barbie is at least nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay — a chance for Gerwig to get her Oscar. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself throwing your cocktail at the TV on March 12. If history is to repeat itself, that award will probably go to a movie much less pink and much less female.

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