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Oscar nod for Ken underscores Barbie's feminist fight, Megan Smith writes

Student Life

By Megan Smith

In the pop-culture zeitgeist, the summer of 2023 will forever be characterized by one inescapable, clever portmanteau: Barbenheimer.

Barbie and Oppenheimer are two blockbuster movies that could not be more different in terms of their genre, subject matter, or even general vibe.

A serious, gritty time capsule of one of humanity’s defining — and dangerous — inventions . . . and a bright, fun journey into the world of a feminine icon, with a poignant underlying message.

Pink wave

While Oppenheimer was a more conventional work of film artistry, audiences were captivated by Barbie.

Its hard-hitting yet approachable commentary on the nature of being a woman and the importance of feminism — not just for women, but for everyone — was delivered through whimsical set designs (that helped cause a worldwide shortage of pink paint); a phenomenal, diverse cast; and a star-studded soundtrack for the summer.

It was a hit, especially for its director, Greta Gerwig, and star Margot Robbie.

But, once award season rolled around, the world was left with a strange sense of irony.

“The film’s creative mastermind and the actor who brought the doll to life were conspicuously absent.”

For the prestigious, but often contentious and controversial, Academy Awards, also known as the Oscars, Barbie did receive some consideration in a few different categories, including Best Picture.

But in two of the highest honours, Best Lead Actress and Best Director, the film’s creative mastermind and the actor who brought the doll to life, were conspicuously absent.

Who did get a nomination? None other than Ken — Ryan Gosling, the film’s deutragonist and male lead.

Don’t get me wrong. Gosling did a phenomenal job in the role. The song he recorded for the film’s soundtrack, I’m Just Ken, was a prominent earworm in my head for months.

My issue is not that he was nominated; his performance deserves the praise it received. My issue is that he was one of the only ones nominated.

There was some female representation among the film’s nominees: most prominently, America Ferrera was, and in my eyes, very deservingly, nominated for Best Supporting Actress, and Billie Eilish’s What Was I Made For? is in the running for Best Original Song, but two of the film’s most crucial players were entirely and unjustly overlooked.

Clear bias

In my eyes, this shows that the Academy either did not understand the movie or simply did not care.

We could argue that the Academy does not base its nomination decisions on the public perception of a film and instead makes its choices based on the creative talent of those involved.

But again, that does not make Robbie and Gerwig’s exclusions any less glaring; to make a film as widely well-received as Barbie, creative talent must exist in its director and actors, and for a movie like Barbie, the portrayal of the titular doll herself is a make-or-break element.

“Conscious or not, there is clearly still a bias, the very same bias that Barbie tries to challenge.”

No matter what lens we use to examine it, for a film about challenging our society’s standards and preconceived notions, both male and female, yet again the man gets a nod while the woman is ignored.

If the movie as a whole were not worthy of praise, it would not have been nominated at all, and the director and cast are ultimately responsible for making Barbie the cultural phenomenon it was.

I am not saying any of this was a conscious act of discrimination — it is quite likely that there was no malice or even intentional discriminatory thought involved here.

But, conscious or not, there is clearly still a bias, the very same bias that Barbie tries to challenge.

By nominating Gosling for his role as Ken, society yet again implicitly places masculinity at a higher level of validity and importance than anything feminine.

Barbie’s message decries the gender discrepancy, but not in the way that might be expected. It rightfully establishes feminism not as a fight to place women and femme-presenting people above men, but to place the genders on equal ground.

And, it is in light of the Oscar nominations that the film’s groundbreaking message becomes even more important — its work is not yet done, and viewers should appreciate everyone involved in its writing, filming and production, official award or not.

There is nothing wrong with celebrating an actor’s talent regardless of gender or the artistic merits of a very different kind of film, but we should not overlook the fact that, in the awards season’s foray into Barbieland and beyond, there were some obvious omissions.

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