Friday Feminist Reviews, Movies 9th February, 2024

Oscars, Barbie, and the Fickle Finger of Feminism.

We will cut to the chase – it really is not a travesty for the feminist movement that Barbie’s Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig were not nominated into major categories of the 96th Academy Awards. The world witnessed a collective meltdown, at one point helmed by Hillary Clinton no less, at the Oscar ‘snub’ that Robbie and Gerwig faced in the best actress and best director categories, respectively. 

Makes us think – the so-called snub resulted in an immediate global (and even political) meltdown as opposed to crickets chirping in the face of a devastating humanitarian crisis. Yet, it’s not that we think Barbie was a terrible film. 

A well-made fantasy comedy with brilliant acting chops on exhibit, Greta Gerwig touches upon the feminist fury, which forms the core of the women’s rights movement, with care and precision. In the matriarchal utopian Barbieland, the Barbies run the world and are leaders in science, media, politics, law and so on. The Kens play at the beaches and believe that to be their profession. Patriarchy is a foreign tongue that is spoken in a far, far away land that, for all we know, probably does not even exist. 

…it’s not that we think Barbie was a terrible film. 

Yet, when one day Barbie brings a dance party to a rude halt with her question about death, you realise that the far away land of misery and agony exists. A depressed Barbie who has overnight developed flat feet, bad breath and cellulite sets on a quest to find the child who is playing with her in the real world, after consulting with the Weird Barbie, who is disfigured because of the very same child who was playing with her in the real world. 

You will find yourself rooting for Weird Barbie who has no care in the world for beauty or flat feet. Barbie definitely has its moments – one of which is America Ferrera’s character Gloria embarking on a long speech about society’s expectations and the conundrum they result in, for many women. It is also stupidly amusing to see Ken, who has found in the real world that patriarchy is the real deal, promptly getting back to Barbie Land to replicate the model that benefits men. He turns Barbie’s dreamhouse into Mojo Dojo Casa! 

Greta Gerwig touches upon the feminist fury, which forms the core of the women’s rights movement, with care and precision.

You see, Barbie, with its opulence of all things pink and pretty, truly makes for a delightful (even a rebellious) watch but as someone said on the Internet, it also seemed like a “two-hour long glorified commercial for Mattel”. Barbie tells you things that feminists over years have spoken about for long about the standards that are set for how women should be. And for the same reason, its subject matter does not engage. 

Ferrera’s speech, though moving and relatable, tells us nothing that we don’t already know. Given how their marketing, digital and PR teams made it almost impossible for people to step out of their houses without catching a glimpse of bubble-gum pink somewhere, anywhere, you’d expect the film to talk about things other than what the first-wave feminists rebelled against. And for the same reason, in addition to being mindful of Greta Gerwig’s filmography (Little Women, Lady Bird, to name a few), one expected Barbie to talk about feminist issues beyond the surface, such as the multi-layered discrimination faced by women and queer people of colour, people with disabilities, etc. Heck, if the makers were not so lazy to show Los Angeles as the real world and had gone beyond white people-dominantly populated regions, the issues they’d have shown would have been vastly different and relatable for other communities of colour, class, race and caste. 

[Barbie] also seemed like a “two-hour long glorified commercial for Mattel”

Meanwhile, the Oscar ‘snub’ is being touted as revelatory of how women continue to be stifled from being recognised for their success, in line with the messaging of the movie itself. That would have made more sense had Barbie not received eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. It would have definitely been noteworthy if this was not the first time that the Best Picture category has more films directed by women as nominees. Not to forget, Lily Gladstone (nominated in the Best Actress category for Killers of the Flower Moon) is the first Indigenous American actress to be nominated for an Academy Award. Not something to brag home about in the year 2024, yet the buzz around the Barbie Oscar ‘snub’ steers conversations and global recognition away from the achievements of many other stellar women and their work. 

Watch the trailer for Barbie here:

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