The Oscar Nominations Have Kicked Off Another Wave of Outrage

The “Barbie snub” has kicked off an online kerfuffle about the 2024 Academy Award nominations. The decisions of the Academy are generally cynical and silly — but perhaps we should appreciate the fighting spirit awakened annually by the nominations.

Greta Gerwig (L) and Margot Robbie (R) attend the Barbie Celebration Party at Museum of Contemporary Art on June 30, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (James Gourley / Getty Images)

Everybody’s been talking about the 2024 Academy Award nominations, even if only to mock those who care about such frivolous things — but mostly because of the controversy surrounding the phenomenally popular film Barbie. The movie received eight nominations, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress for America Ferrera, and Best Supporting Actor for Ryan Gosling’s funny turn as Ken, but none for the always delightful Margot Robbie in the title role or for Greta Gerwig’s directing. Apparently, as tens of thousands of online fulminators have pointed out, this travesty proves the film’s whole feminist argument: that the real world is a foul patriarchal sty designed to favor the Kens while the Barbies are shoved aside.

Famous people protesting this outrage were strange bedfellows indeed: Ryan Gosling, Billie Jean King, Stephen King, John Stamos, and Bette Midler, among others. Most astonishing was the way Hillary Clinton weighed in on Twitter/X, and Instagram, as if she were running a very belated campaign announcement:

Other extremely online commentators began to critique this Barbie kerfuffle, pointing out that Barbie is hardly a serious feminist manifesto in film form. Still others mentioned that while Gerwig can certainly be credited with making a more entertaining film than anyone would’ve expected out of what is essentially one gigantic ad for Mattel, it’s not exactly a work of rare cinematic genius or anything. And then still others point out that Oppenheimer ain’t no work of cinematic genius either, but look at those thirteen goddamn nominations, including Best Director for Christopher Nolan, the most overpraised “auteur” in Hollywood.

As the online indignation continued, rhetorical ripples spread outward from the so-called Barbie snub. Why let the lack of nominations for white women in the film industry take attention away from the landmark Best Actress nomination of Lily Gladstone for her magnificent work in Killers of the Flower Moon, making her the first Native American to be nominated for an Oscar in the history of film?

As the reactions spread, other lamentations began to be heard from those angry about the way their own “best” choices — far better films, of course — got the shaft. There’s the total shutout of Todd Haynes’s May December, for example, with an especially shocking lack of acknowledgment of Charles Melton’s wonderfully affecting performance. And only one woman director got nominated this year: Justine Triet for Anatomy of a Fall. Director Celine Song, whose highly praised film Past Lives got a Best Picture nomination, was overlooked, once again showcasing how silly it was to change the Academy policy to bump up the number of Best Picture nominees to ten while keeping the traditional number of five Best Director nominees.

However, it’s worth remembering that the decisions of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences are generally cynical and silly. If you recall, the number of Best Picture nominees was expanded in 2009 so that movies that were popular though not necessarily critical favorites, and that made a lot of money, could rack up nominations too. The main motivation behind the change was to shore up the dwindling number of people watching the annual Academy Awards ceremony. The change is also widely blamed on the “Dark Knight snub” that infuriated so many fans.

With the “Barbie snub” fallout, we’re back in the familiar yearly scrum of people fighting about what constitutes a good film, why their favorites weren’t nominated for major awards, and what’s wrong with this moronic society anyway that it can’t acknowledge genuinely great films. There’s no denying that Academy Award nominations have an impact — they increase viewership of the nominated films as well as awarded ones, they boost careers, and they tend to give carte blanche to certain filmmakers to go on making films for ten or twenty more years, often while more truly talented filmmakers struggle in anonymity.

I surprise myself by appreciating this year’s public contention over movie awards nominations. I’d absolutely sworn off dealing with the Oscars after last year — and also after the year before that, and the year before that — for the obvious reasons. The nominations and awards are so inevitably stupid every year, which isn’t surprising, given the demographic of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voters skewing old, white, and male, with obvious prejudices toward stodgy, conventional filmmaking by industry favorites. There’s also the fact that the origins of the Academy are despicable, corrupt, and aggressively anti-labor (and if you don’t know about that, here’s a wonderfully informative piece on it by me).

But every time I get out, they pull me back in. This year I wondered if it was the result of so much escalating cultural fragmentation, and a sentimental love of anything that gets us all talking about the same thing at the same time, that made me more engaged by what people think of the Oscars than in previous years. But I don’t think so. Ultimately, it’s one unforeseen factor that brought me back around to an interest in the Academy Award nominations: the online snobs. The snobs represented the fourth or fifth wave of commentary on this year’s Academy Award nominations. These are the creeps who snigger in a superior manner, amused that anyone in this wide world could possibly care about anything so low as prizes given out for movies.

And I’ll be damned if I side with the elitist assholes of this world. This goes beyond the maxim “Let people enjoy things” to “For the love of gods, let people take an interest in the variety of things that happen in this world.”

Anyway, I submit that all this haranguing about the movies is a good thing. For people interested in watching films — and a lot of people still are, thank heaven — there are compelling issues that wind up getting debated during cinematic awards season. If film is going to continue as one of the seven lively arts, people have to weigh in on them and argue for what’s good and what’s not and why. We moviegoers are far too uncritical as a rule. We put up with a pretty steady diet of swill, and some of us come to like the taste of swill because there’s not much else offered to us.

Not me, of course. I know exactly how much swill I’m consuming on a yearly basis, and I say so fearlessly. Others at the trough often rebuke me for not praising the swill more.

So I’ve now come to appreciate the fighting spirit kicked off annually by the Academy Award nominations, when normally too-quiescent movie viewers get up on their hind legs to protest so many terrible decisions made by a desiccated institutional body of addled Academy voters who ought to know better. Let the awards season arguing flourish.