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Seeing Pink: Barbie, the Oscars & Online Discourse

“There is a pattern with the Oscars celebrating white actors, actresses and directors who appeared in specific genres of films, telling specific types of stories.”

With the Oscars just around the corner, a discussion surrounding the Academy award show has started to stir. This March 10 will be the 96th Academy Awards. Since its beginning in 1929, there have been opinions and conversations about which motion picture nominees should be rewarded as winners in each category. Recently, there has been discourse regarding the nominations for the “Barbie” movie.   

With the conversation around the upcoming award show, Dr. Amber Nicole Pfannenstiel, professor of English at Millersville University, joins the ongoing discussion about the Oscars and shares her thoughts on the Barbie movie discourse.  

The Oscars are designed to officially recognize the cinematic excellence of films through the Academy of Motion Pictures, an organization of members who screen and vote in each award category.   

“For the Oscars, votes are tallied, and the nominee with the most votes wins. A huge part of the pomp and circumstance surrounding the Oscars is that only two members know the results – with a briefcase carrying the results, often handcuffed to one of the two knowing members being broadcast to build suspense within the show,” Pfannenstiel explains. “Saying that, I think there has been some important conversation in the last 10 years about which films, actors and directors are nominated and celebrated. A hashtag like #oscarssowhite is just one example of the pushback over the last decade to who is celebrated and who is visibly ignored by the Academy of Motion Pictures. There is a pattern with the Oscars celebrating white actors, actresses and directors who appeared in specific genres of films, telling specific types of stories.”  

When the 2024 Oscars nominations were released, the internet was shocked to find that Margot Robbie and Greta Gerwig were not nominated for the Best Leading Actress and Best Director categories. The Barbie community was astounded as they believed this was unjust and went against the feminist message in the film. Pfannenstiel explains that the reason could be as simple as the film or acting didn’t fit the pattern of what is celebrated by voting members of the Academy of Motion Pictures.  

“Barbie’s story of feminism told through popping colors and comedy really doesn’t fit the pattern at all. It was so unlikely for the film and Lead/Supporting Actors even to be nominated simply because it is a comedy. The feminism, poppy Barbie pink and high box office numbers most likely shifted how the Academy viewed the film, making nominations even less likely.”  

With the Barbie movie left out of certain categories by Academy Award members, Pfannenstiel says it is likely that there will be fewer movies that tell stories such as Barbie’s. Stories are less likely to be told and funded if they do not perform well in the Academy Awards. This could mean that audiences of color may see less movie representation, and their lived experiences will be left out of the stories being told. Regarding “Barbie,” Pfannenstiel admits that “the Barbie snub highlights that bright, vibrant, upbeat stories that develop rich stories on complex topics might not be made in the future.”   

Ryan Gosling, supporting actor to Robbie, publicly announced his disappointment in receiving an Oscar nomination while his female counterparts did not. While the internet praised Gosling for speaking out and defending the integrity of the movie, Pfannenstiel worries that his statement may have overshadowed America Ferrera, an actress of color, and her Oscar nomination, “I think Gosling had every right and responsibility to release a statement, and very rightly drew attention to Ferrera’s nomination. But I think he also drew attention away from Ferrera and how important her nomination is,” she concludes.    

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