/Playing the Academy’s game 
Graphic by Bell Jackson

Playing the Academy’s game 

By Drew Roberts 

I was quite upset on Jan. 23.  

Then again, Oscar nominations always disappoint me. The very act of picking five films to represent the best of certain categories is ridiculous. Someone—and by someone, I mean me—is bound to get their feelings hurt.  

Yet, I tune in year after year. The vicious cycle came back with a special sting for this year’s Oscars, for my worst fears had come true: Greta Gerwig had been snubbed for Best Director.  

I don’t need to tell you that people were upset. A cursory look at social media that fateful day would be enough to do that. Through video essays, TikTok rants and articles like this one, the public decried the Academy’s decision, declaring it, along with Margot Robbie’s snub in the Best Actress category, as flying in the face of the message of “Barbie.” 

I won’t focus too much on Robbie’s snub, mainly because she’s competing against other women, unlike Gerwig. 

Ironically enough, Ryan Gosling got a Best Supporting Actor nomination for playing Ken. Gosling released a statement shortly after the snub, saying, “there is no Ken without Barbie, and there is no Barbie movie without Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie, the two people most responsible for this history-making, globally-celebrated film.” 

A recent promotion for the ceremony featured Gosling, fellow nominee America Ferrara, Kate McKinnon and this year’s host Jimmy Kimmel screaming in horror at the news of Gerwig’s snub. 

This self-awareness on the Academy’s part may seem surprising, but it’s really just par for the course. The Academy often tries to straddle the line between prestige and entertainment. For every self-important monologue on the power of cinema, there’s the infamous Best Picture mix-up of “La La Land” and “Moonlight.” Of course, that faux pas wasn’t intentional, but it certainly makes it hard to take these award shows seriously. 

Overall, “Barbie” received eight nominations, and yet, the ringleader of the entire operation received no recognition. I attribute this less to sexism, and more to the types of films the Academy usually nominates. Though, if you suspect foul play and sexist motives, I wouldn’t fault you. The Academy has only given the Best Director Oscar to three women in its 96-year history. 

To start, the Academy doesn’t care much for comedies. A dramatic performance will beat a comedic performance nine times out of ten, and the same goes for the movies themselves. Comedies, especially studio comedies like “Barbie,” also tend to lack the visual flair and immersive tone that dramatic films have. Including most or all of these elements is critical when seeking a Best Director nomination. 

“Oppenheimer,” “Killers of the Flower Moon” and “Anatomy of a Fall” have all of these things working in their favor, which is the reason why their respective directors got nominated. I haven’t been able to watch Jonathan Glazer’s Holocaust drama, “The Zone of Interest,” but I’ve heard nothing but praise for his work behind the camera. Yorgos Lanthimos’s “Poor Things” stands out as the only comedy. I have no interest in watching this film, but the visuals I’ve seen from it indicate the aforementioned immersion and tonality. 

Where does this leave Gerwig? As a writer-director, with a heavy emphasis on “writer,” she will have to play the Academy’s game. Her niche resides in intimate human dramedies that lean on their ridiculously good screenplays. That’s not what the Academy likes. 

Yet, she improved leaps and bounds directorially in her sophomore effort “Little Women.” It was a wholly unique take on a tale that had been done to death in previous films. The Academy saw this and decided to award a nomination to Todd Phillips, director of the insufferably mediocre film “Joker.” I suppose the logic there was that it had already received 11 nominations. They just had to give it to Phillips. As you can see, the Academy doesn’t follow that logic when it comes to “Barbie,” so it often comes down to marketing and blind luck.  

It’s worth noting that Gerwig is the only director to have her first three films get nominated for Best Picture. Even if she doesn’t hold a golden statue this year, her time will come. I won’t leave you with a rallying cry on the injustice of the Academy. The organization itself isn’t worth our time. I’ll simply ask that you wait. One year the perfect narrative will fall into place. Gerwig’s name will be called and she’ll walk on that stage. Only then will some semblance of justice be served. 

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