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Voices: Sorry, Barbie – you just weren’t good enough

Women at the wheel: Ryan Gosling as Ken and Margot Robbie as Barbie (Warner Bros Entertainment )
Women at the wheel: Ryan Gosling as Ken and Margot Robbie as Barbie (Warner Bros Entertainment )

In the week of Barbenheimer, I watched the one about the nuclear scientist who harnessed the power to blow up the world in my local swish cinema, one with velvet sofas and at-seat service. I saw the one about the plastic doll discovering feminism in a cheap and cheerful multiplex, surrounded by mums telling their young children that “maybe this film won’t be quite what you’re expecting, darling”.

I think the fiver I paid to see the latter was an indication that I wasn’t expecting to see an Oscar-winning epic. Instead, I saw a fabulous-looking film with a few laughs and a Feminism For Beginners attitude. There was also a standout performance from Ryan Gosling as Ken, whose plastic-dunderhead behaviour in his Mojo Dojo Casa House, while swanning around in a floor-length fur coat and bandana, not only showed how Barbie really needed to change the world, but also that Gosling is a nonpareil comic actor.

I was still a bit surprised when yesterday, he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for the role, with America Ferrera also in the running for Best Supporting Actress. But there were no nominations for the powerhouse women behind Barbie, director and co-writer Greta Gerwig, and star and co-producer Margot Robbie, whose talent and determination have been extraordinary.

It’s female power that made Barbie happen, and women directors, producers, writers and actors still get a bum deal in Hollywood

Gosling has since commented: “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. No recognition would be possible for anyone on the film without their talent, grit and genius. To say that I’m disappointed that they are not nominated in their respective categories would be an understatement.”

He is, of course, right. It’s female power that made Barbie happen, and women directors, producers, writers and actors still get a bum deal in Hollywood. Not only have they created a film that enchanted audiences, but it has hopefully planted the seed of girl power in the minds of the little girls who saw it. Barbie also won the first Golden Globe award for cinematic and box office achievement earlier this month, and no wonder – it grossed $1.44bn and was the most successful film of 2023.

However, not all can have prizes. The word “random” is something I always associate with the Academy Award committee, as their nominations can be all over the place – and surely, with the Award committee being less pale, male and stale than it used to be, that’s as it should be.

Also, the Academy does love to put its serious hat on when it comes to lead performances, so perhaps that’s why Robbie’s comic turn wasn’t on their list, while the other women starring in dramas – such as Killers of the Flower Moon and Maestro – were. Justine Triet is the only female director to have been Oscar-nominated as Best Director, for crime drama Anatomy of a Fall.

Still, it’s unarguable that women in cinema do have a long way to go before they can move with the ease that men do; they still have to work with cunning and smarts to get movies made.

And perhaps the women behind the Barbie movie were far too brilliant in creating the character of Ken; a preening, oiled himbo to whom they gave all the best lines (“To be honest, when I found out the patriarchy wasn’t about horses, I lost interest anyway.”)

Barbie’s women walked so that Ken could run – down to the beach, in faded double denim, in order to top up his tan.