Saturday, March 2, 2024

Why Greta Gerwig Didn’t Get “Kenough” Recognition From The Academy For “Barbie”

Well, that was a fun week, huh? I mean, being on social media over the last week felt like being stuck in the middle of a Ken war, right down to political figures even issuing political statements (which note to political figures: never go full movie discourse). That said, now that we’re officially a week removed from the Oscar nominations, the discourse has died down, and I’ve had multiple days to reflect on it, I’ve still come to the following conclusion: Greta Gerwig not being nominated for Best Director for “Barbie” doesn’t feel right. Yes, the category was STACKED with potential nominees. And yes, everyone that was nominated was more than deserving. But I feel like she more than earned a spot in the final five.

Before I go any further, I do want to give Justine Triet her flowers. “Anatomy of a Fall” is a phenomenal movie, and her direction is a big reason why. Not only that, but getting overlooked as France’s submission for Best International Feature Film (potentially due to Triet speaking her mind and protesting against Macron during her Palme d’Or acceptance speech), then getting the last laugh with five Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, is the story arc both her and her film genuinely deserve. But I really don’t like how the conversation got to a point where discussing disappointment over Gerwig’s lack of a nomination meant you were disrespecting Triet, especially when you have some discourse over perceived “snubs” to varying degrees every year.

And there’s plenty of other discourse from “Film Twitter” (sorry, I refuse to acknowledge it as X from here on out) that I didn’t like seeing. For one, I didn’t appreciate the sentiment that “there are ten Best Picture nominees, but only five Best Director nominees,” especially since I never heard that same sentiment when, say, Gerwig didn’t get nominated for “Little Women” in 2019, or any other time a well-deserving female director didn’t receive a nomination.

Better yet, let me put it this way: let’s say you were magically transported to 1992 on the afternoon the Oscar nominees were announced that year. You have the privilege of standing in the company of Barbra Streisand, who was unfortunately denied a nomination for “The Prince of Tides” despite getting nominated in various precursors that award season. Despite winning the Golden Globe for Best Director, she had also been overlooked for directing “Yentl” in 1984. With an opportunity to speak to her, could you imagine telling her the following:

1. “The Prince of Tides received seven nominations, so your movie wasn’t technically overlooked.”

2. “Your film is nominated for Best Picture, so you directed a Best Picture nominee. That’s recognition enough.”

3. “You were a producer on that movie, so you’re still Oscar-nominated for your movie.”

Yeah, imagine how those discussions would have gone over with her.

In the decades I’ve been following the Academy Awards and award precursors, and specifically the discussion about how there needs to be more female Best Director nominees, regardless if there were zero or one deserving nominee chosen that year, I have rarely heard “at least we got [x nominee] in” or “that’s just how the Director’s Branch of the Academy is “…unless it’s been followed up with “and that needs to change, and here’s why.”

In my honest, humble opinion, instead of those on Film Twitter making the above cases, tripping over themselves to explain why Gerwig’s lack of nomination isn’t a huge deal (and being a part of, and even forcing themselves into, the discourse while simultaneously saying that they absolutely hate the discourse), I wish those who chose to make the above cases instead stated what they actually, really felt, which is (likely) the following:

1. “I’m not a big fan of the movie” (which is fine; art is subjective, and we can have debates and friendly disagreements about the movie’s quality).

2. “I don’t think Gerwig deserved it more than the people that were nominated (which again is fair, it was a stacked category, and to be fair, I definitely heard this quite a bit)

3. “I prefer smaller indie films, foreign movies, and other under-the-radar, underrecognized films that the general public hasn’t seen to get recognition over Gerwig.”

The last point is the one I have a bit of a problem with and is two to three notches down from directors like Kelly Reichardt and Ruben Östlund as “just another Barbie movie” or saying corporate money is bribing auteur directors into making their “capitalist propaganda” instead of the movies they “deserve” to make (and yes, Hollywood needs to place more of an emphasis on nurturing films other than blockbusters, but at the same time directors shouldn’t be forced to be starving artists in the name of artistic integrity, either). Again, art is subjective, and yes, this may not be the year to die on a hill and plant that flag with the great nominees there are this year. And you won’t get any Stephen King-esque tweets from me sticking up for the film-going general public by saying the Academy doesn’t represent them (or, for that matter, any support for the Golden Globes’ “box office award”). But just like, in theory, it shouldn’t be “Best Film That’s Made the Most Money” or “Best Film That Represents the Older Academy Voting Body’s Personal Preferences,” it also shouldn’t be “Best Indie, Foreign or Under-Recognized Film Plus Hollywood Films That Film Twitter Can Get Behind as Deserving,” either. It should, ideally, be Best Picture. And yes, “Barbie” got a Best Picture nomination, but a HUGE part of the reason is Gerwig’s work behind the director’s chair.

Here’s my case: those who feel “Barbie” succeeds (including me) is because it successfully subverts most people’s expectations of what a “Barbie” movie can be. It’s not only irreverent to Barbie, but it holds a light to Barbie’s effects on pop culture, both positive and negative, in ways that would normally make Mattel and major studios uncomfortable (which both Gerwig and Robbie have discussed in multiple interviews in terms of working with both entities). Yes, her Oscar-nominated script (co-written with Noah Baumbach) lays that foundation, showing you can take something like Barbie and use it to make original statements, should a studio let you. But watch any of the behind-the-scenes footage and some of the campaigning and interviews Gerwig did, and you’ll not only see the hair and make-up, production design, and costume teams and their brilliant, hard, and award-nominated work, but you’ll see Gerwig overseeing it all, laying out her vision to them, how pink the set should be, how Barbie should gracefully go from her balcony to her car, and those responsible trying to execute her vision. If Gerwig did not oversee all of it as well as she did, in addition to working with editors to edit the film and helping decide what to keep and what to cut, and what to acknowledge from test screenings (RIP fart opera) and what convictions she should stay true to and so on, she would have fallen flat on her face over her ambitions. The odds that were stacked against her in achieving her vision against a corporation, the size of her ambition, and the risk of her career plummeting if the movie failed, compared to how successful she was in achieving her vision and overseeing it all, make her deserving of one of those five spots.

This is where I again feel that the “snubbing of Triet” discourse is just a little disingenuous. Again, Triet is more than deserving of doing for “Anatomy of a Fall” what Gerwig did for “Barbie” to successfully achieve a singular vision. But again, in the past, we’ve lamented for many award seasons how there were no female director nominees (including 2019, when many lamented Gerwig’s lack of a nomination for “Little Women“) or how just one “token” (although deserving) nomination was chosen. Yet for quite a few people, the minute a woman is chosen for a movie that’s critically acclaimed, Film Twitter adored and approved, has the Cannes bonafides, and was a nomination for a smaller, foreign film that many predictors didn’t see coming, suddenly it’s “be thankful she’s nominated” and “let’s celebrate Triet/we’re not celebrating enough.” That’s not only coming at the expense of the great work Gerwig did for, yes, a more Hollywood/corporate film, but for Celine Song, as well, who deserves the same getting-flowers-despite-no-direction-nomination that Gerwig and other women have gotten in the past for directing other great films, as well. In other words, if we really want to “do better” when it comes to nominating more female directors, that should be every award season, including ones where a social media favorite (deservingly) gets recognized.

One other thing: for those who said, “It’s not like everyone went in a room and decided to snub ONE person,” be very careful with that talk because it could go down a slippery slope very quickly. Not everyone went into a room to snub Streisand for directing “Yentl” or “The Prince of Tides,” but they were saying something to one another. And again, Reichardt and Östlund openly dismissed the movie in interviews, so they and others who voted feeling the same way are saying something. We may not know (or we choose to believe they’re not) that they’re all getting together to actively hold someone back from a nomination, but their words are out there in the world for everyone to read.

So the question is, who would I take out (at least that was a question I also read amongst the discourse)? If I had to choose, I would go with Martin Scorsese. No, this nomination was not a name-check like the John Williams and Diane Warren nominations typically are, and he transformed the narrative of “Killers of the Flower Moon” as much as Gerwig changed “Barbie.” But after so many nominations and a win in this category, he probably wouldn’t have minded giving up the space to allow someone else to be recognized. And as a producer of the film, he’s still an Oscar nominee for the film, so he still gets his recognition, right? See how that argument works both ways?

Anyway, now that the discourse has died down, we’ll see if the lack of nomination for Gerwig and Robbie will lead to it receiving more wins beyond Best Original Song, with people rallying around it in other categories. Or we’ll see if there’s a backlash to the backlash, although personally, I doubt most Academy voters are quite as “online” as many on Film Twitter are. But even as the nominees and winners start to solidify in the history books, the lack of a Gerwig nomination will be one of those things I will point to as a nomination that should have happened.

One last thing to note: what about Margot Robbie? Yes, I was surprised that she wasn’t nominated since she was nominated in virtually every major award precursor, and it bothered me that Annette Benning got that fifth spot over her, likely due to the older voter body wanting to recognize her for such a physically grueling performance. But a Gerwig nomination would have made the discourse much quieter, too, especially if that fifth nomination went to Greta Lee or Fantasia Barrino, two deserving, more diverse nominees in an even more stacked category.

What did you think of the Oscar nominations last week? Do you think Greta Gerwig should’ve gotten an Oscar nomination for Best Director? Please let us know in the comments section below or on Next Best Picture’s Twitter account. Also, please check out their latest Oscar winner predictions here and the 2023 precursor awards tally here.

You can follow Jason and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars & Film on Twitter at @Shoffology

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