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Oscar nominations spark controversy with snubs of Barbie's Margot Robbie, Greta Gerwig


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Geoff Bennett: When the Academy Award nominations were announced yesterday, among the films on the list for best picture was the year's biggest-grossing movie, "Barbie."

But many were surprised the nominations for best director did not include the film's director, Greta Gerwig.

Jeffrey Brown has a look for our arts and culture series, Canvas.

Jeffrey Brown : How do these nominations get made, and why would both Greta Gerwig and the film star, Margot Robbie, both be left off?

Well, Washington Post's chief film critic, Ann Hornaday, has been thinking and writing about this, and she joins me now.

Hi, Ann.

I mean, you wrote an interesting piece today in which you said that the range of films that were nominated in the best picture category really reflected the wonderful range of films being made, but not in the director's category. What happened there?

Ann Hornaday, Film Critic, The Washington Post: Well, Geoff, I think that let's focus on the good news, which is what an amazing year.

I mean, I think that this is a wide range of films, both in theme, in tone, in approach, and it's just exactly what we want in scope. We want the bigs. We want the littles. We want the mediums.

But the directors branch, when they nominate the five finalists for the Oscar, do tend to go with the kind of auteurist, technically rigorous, ambitious work.

Jeffrey Brown : A lot of people pointing to an irony here that the director of a film smartly critiquing sexism in the culture, she doesn't get full recognition. And, to some, that suggests that that very sexism is on display.

Ann Hornaday: Well, I can understand that, but I'm not sure — I think we need to be really careful about and maybe a little bit more thoughtful about framing this as pure sexism.

I mean, let's not forget Justine Triet made the cut for "Anatomy of a Fall." It might have as much to do, if not more, with genre than gender. I mean, even though "Poor Things" made that cut for director, generally, Oscars don't take comedies as seriously as art as dramas. And so I think that might have as much to do with it as anything.

And it also — I think we need to kind of remind ourselves about how these nominations are made. I mean, these — the nominations do come from the individual branches, and those members basically cast their ballots individually, anonymously and confidentially. So it's not like they're getting in a room and making these decisions collectively.

So I'm a little bit more hesitant to paint this with a wide brush of sexism or snub. I just think, frank — if anything, I think it points to just how rich the choices were. I mean, these are five — we can all quibble. We would all sort of make our choice of who we would replace with home, which is a really fun thing to do. And I think it increases our interest in movies.

But at the end of the day, these are really — let's not forget, these are very strong choices and extremely well-directed films. So it's not as if somebody got in at somebody else's expense.

Jeffrey Brown : And then what about in the actress category, where Margot Robbie did not get an act — now, it was a very strong category of acting.

Ann Hornaday: That's exactly right. That's my point exactly.

I mean, and we don't know — we don't know the numbers. We don't know how close those votes were. So I just — even though I know it's heartbreaking for the people that don't — that get up early, and it's also something of a team sport for the fans of the movies, "Barbie" did get recognized in many other categories, including supporting actress, which was sort of a surprise to me, as well as best picture and other categories.

So I don't know. Maybe I'm being Pollyanna, but I do choose to see this as more good news than bad.

Jeffrey Brown : We have talked about this a lot in the past about the lack of representation in films and then lack of representation in the awards and the nominations.

There have been many changes made in the makeup of the academy itself. Do you see the results of that in recent years?

Ann Hornaday: If anything, I see the results in the increase in international membership.

I think that's where we're really seeing sea changes. And I think it's terribly exciting. And I think it returns cinema to its global — its proper global place. Even though Oscars are quintessentially Hollywood, the transmission between Hollywood and other countries and other cultures is longstanding and rich.

And so I think the degree to which we're seeing things like "Parasite" and Michelle Yeoh winning for "Everything Everywhere All at Once," and this year "Anatomy of a Fall," I just think it suggests a widening of the lens when it comes to what we consider movie movies and mainstream movies.

And that's all to the good.

Jeffrey Brown : Ann Hornaday of The Washington Post, thank you very much.

Ann Hornaday: Thank you.

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