Barbie and the irony of Hollywood

In most of the entertainment industry, there are evident standards for female and male characters. Women are intended to be beautiful, calm and ditsy, while men get to be heroes and warriors. Although the industry has still developed a scene of iconic female characters, it is easy to be blindsided into believing the scales are equal. 

Take the Golden Globes, a critically acclaimed film award show that many fans respect and value. 2024 host Jo Koy received major backlash for a joke aimed at “Barbie” that was widely considered disrespectful and reductive. Koy praised the script of Oppenheimer, a male-dominated film and one of “Barbie’s” main box office competitors, for its adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book. In the same line, Koy criticized the “Barbie” adaptation by reducing the film to a superficial reference to her body. For an industry that seems to want to recognize and celebrate diversity, the happenings of the Golden Globes are rather embarrassing. 

Similarly, at the 2024 Critics Choice Awards, the song “I’m Just Ken” performed by Ryan Gosling in “Barbie” won the award for Best Song even up against “What Was I Made For?,” which was written originally for the film by Billie Eilish and encompasses the film’s introspective essence. Both songs are nominated for Best Original Song at the upcoming Academy Awards, with “What Was I Made For” winning many precursor awards including the Golden Globe. In contrast to the poignant self-reflection of “What Was I Made For?,” “I’m Just Ken” focuses on Ken’s struggles in the world of “Barbie.” Gosling was noticeably surprised after his Critics Choice Award win, and Eilish’s defeat was viewed as a controversial snub by many. Instead of creating a culture war over the merits of both songs, can both be celebrated for their contributions to the film?

The character of Barbie has been a source of women’s empowerment for decades, but the film now establishes the reality of being a woman in modern-day society. It encourages women to strive to erase the stigma around being confined to a specific set of character traits. Yet the message of the movie continues to be disregarded. In January, a final list of Oscar nominations was released for recognition of the film industry. “Barbie” was one of ten nominees for Best Picture, but star Margot Robbie and director Greta Gerwig were noticeably left out of the five nominees for Best Lead Actress and Best Director, respectively.

Robbie, also a producer on the film, and Gerwig, also co-nominated with her partner Noah Baumbach for Best Adapted Screenplay, not only brought the character of Barbie to life but also created a box office hit that completely transformed the meaning of girlhood for the audience. Ryan Gosling got a nomination in the Best Supporting Actor category, prompting many to compare the nod to Robbie and Gerwig’s snubs. If nominated, Gerwig would’ve paired with Justine Triet, nominated for “Anatomy of a Fall,” and marked the first time multiple female filmmakers were nominated for Best Director. Instead, Triet stands alone in a field with four male legacy filmmakers. “Barbie” advocates for lifting female voices in male-dominated institutions, yet the nominations send an opposing message.

Robbie and Gerwig both missed out on what are considered loaded Best Lead Actress and Best Director races, while Gosling has been considered a lock for a nomination in Best Supporting Actor since the film’s release. Comedy films like “Barbie” are rarely recognized at the Academy Awards, especially in major categories like Best Picture and Screenplay. Gosling, a largely comedic performance, was rewarded for his role in the film, while Robbie and Gerwig’s parts were passed up by more traditional dramatic performances and filmmakers. The Academy, and other awards bodies, have a history of overlooking comedic performances and films, particularly from women. While Gosling’s nomination did not prevent Robbie or Gerwig from being honored, it does shine a light on Hollywood’s varying views on the comedy genre.

So while we have improved at representing men and women in the entertainment industry, recent events highlight the clear gap that still exists between how far we will go to recognize them. Whether it be in “Barbie” or the real world, we need to have respect for women and that comes from celebrating and honoring the work they do every day to advocate for themselves.