No ‘Barbie’ for Old Men: Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie snubbed by Oscars

At the 1992 Academy Awards, Billy Crystal, the iconic Oscars host of my childhood, joyously sang the praises of “The Prince of Tides” in his outstanding opening medley. “The Prince of Tides” received seven nominations including Best Picture but failed to be nominated for Barbra Streisand’s direction. After singing a few lines in a funny ode to “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” and with Streisand present, Crystal reached his memorable punch line: did this film direct itself?

Fast forward to Tuesday when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its choices for the best in cinema in 2023. “Barbie,” the crowd-pleasing summer blockbuster that made $1.4 billion, received eight nominations including Best Picture. However, and startlingly, screenwriter Greta Gerwig was snubbed for Best Directing and leading lady Margot Robbie was snubbed for Best Actress.

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In the Academy’s attempt to lessen the blow, Gerwig and Robbie were recognized elsewhere (Gerwig for Adapted Screenplay; Robbie for Best Picture as producer) but those nominations are merely glorified invitations to ensure they would appear before a global audience on Hollywood’s biggest night. The Academy’s decision to ignore both the woman whose face, whose sheer performance, embodied the totality of the film along with the woman behind the camera who brought forth a bold, charming and clever vision with cross-generational appeal speaks to the tone deafness (read: sexism) of a film community that has no idea how to handle bankable art (read: comedies) they don’t like, don’t understand or perhaps have animosity or jealousy toward, especially if a woman is in the driver’s seat.

There have been initiatives in recent years to improve diversity within the white, male-dominated Academy by doubling its membership to add more women and ethnicities, but Tuesday’s nominations were an awkward step backward. I’m purposefully lamenting Robbie’s snub yet the omission of Black women in the Best Actress race is equally concerning, specifically when Fantasia Barrino, who reprised her critically acclaimed Broadway portrayal of Celie in “The Color Purple” for the big screen, received nods from major precursors such as the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs (British Academy Film Awards) and Screen Actors Guild (Outstanding Cast of a Motion Picture).

In 2023 the Economic Times reported that 33 percent of the Academy’s overall membership identify as women and 19 percent are from underrepresented ethnic/racial communities. These statistics prove there’s still so much work to be done, especially among the Academy’s Directors Branch, which doesn’t seem to hold Gerwig in the highest regard despite the fact that the past three films she directed (“Lady Bird,” “Little Women,” “Barbie”) received Best Picture nominations. Gerwig, who became only the fifth woman nominated for Best Director for 2017′s “Lady Bird,” is an excellent screenwriter but Hollywood seems to only view her in that context, which is frustrating considering her directorial pedigree and the major stars she attracts who are eager to be a part of her artistry.

Addressing the snubs, an Academy member told People magazine, “I feel sad that that recognition, which is so deserving, was snubbed because it’s wrong on every level… Comedies traditionally don’t do well at the Academy. And this is a film that, yes, was a comedy and it grossed over $1 billion. How do you not give credit to the director?”

One clue into potential “Barbie” backlash within the Directors Branch was revealed last June before the film was even released. Four-time Oscar winner Oliver Stone was asked by City A.M. if he were interested in directing “Barbie 2.” “Ridiculous,” Stone said. “Ryan Gosling is wasting his time if he’s doing that s--- for money. He should be doing more serious films. He shouldn’t be a part of this infantilization of Hollywood.” On Monday Stone backtracked and clarified his comments (don’t you love it when they do that?), but his initial reaction speaks to a sentiment that might have been brewing within the old guard of the Branch.

Controversies have been commonplace throughout 96 years of the Oscars (remember Slapgate starring Will Smith and Chris Rock?) but you’d think the Academy would want to keep growing, keep evolving, in its quest for better inclusivity. Perhaps the Academy should bite the bullet and implement the BAFTA system which involves a jury deciding which actors and directors will achieve final nomination status. Sure, there would be an uproar (read: old guard) but after 96 years it wouldn’t hurt to try something new. Oscar isn’t getting any younger.

Looking back on Oscar history, it took 76 years for an American woman to be nominated for Best Director – Sofia Coppola for 2003′s “Lost in Translation.” And only three women have won: Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker,” 2009), Chloé Zhao (“Nomadland,” 2020) and Jane Campion (“The Power of the Dog,” 2021). It’s refreshing that Justine Triet was nominated this year for directing “Anatomy of a Fall” (which incorporates 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” to chilling effect as background noise) but I still wonder what Gerwig could have done to appeal to her fellow directors. Should “Barbie” have taken a more dramatic “Oppenheimer” approach and run 3 hours with nudity? Surely that wasn’t necessary. Or was it?

If any “Barbie” backlash is true, especially when Academy members filled out their ballots away from prying eyes at dinner parties and private screenings, Gerwig already previewed how she would handle it. And America Ferrera told us to Oscar-nominated aplomb:

“But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged. So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful.”

On March 10, be prepared for Gerwig and Robbie to show up at the Oscars incredibly grateful for knowing they’re more than Kenough.

Right Now with Russell spotlights pop culture every Friday and as news arises. From the latest in film, music, books and TV to the buzz of awards season and other hot button topics, the goal is to fill you in on what’s new in order to satisfy your entertainment cravings. He can be reached at

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