Award Show Barbie (Or In the Case of the Oscars ®: Just Ken)

By Nicole Page and Cleopatra Elrashidy

In 2023, the largest worldwide film release of the year was Barbie, directed by Greta Gerwig, starring Margot Robbie as Barbie. Additionally, Barbie was the highest grossing Warner Bros.’ film ever, earning $1.28 Billion dollars, that’s billion with a B as in Barbie. And, on top of that, Barbie is the highest grossing film from a female filmmaker ever at the domestic box office.[1] Because of Barbie’s record-breaking popularity and profitability, as well as its resonant feminist messaging, many expected Barbie to sweep the Oscars ®, but the film did not even receive nominations in all expected categories. While Barbie was nominated for Best Picture, neither Director Greta Gerwig nor lead actress Margot Robbie were nominated for an Oscar ® in their respective categories. Ryan Gosling, however, received a nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Ken- and stole the show with his performance of “I’m Just Ken”.

Many felt that this “snub” of Gerwig and Robbie in favor of their male colleague was itself indicative of the role of patriarchy in Hollywood, with women serving as the vehicles for male success and being discounted by the Academy. This is nothing new. Over the nearly century long history of the Oscars ®, women have only won Best Director three times: Chloe Zhao for Nomadland, Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker, and Jane Campion for The Power of the Dog. This year, only one woman was even nominated for Best Director: Justine Triet for Anatomy of a Fall. Fascinatingly, this year had a record number of films by women nominated for Best Picture, but the nominations for Best Director do not reflect that.[2] It seems there is a willingness to recognize women producers but not directors.

In order to understand why female directors are being dismissed in Hollywood, it is helpful to consider the broader context of women behind the scenes in the film industry. According to the Celluloid Ceiling Report, which tracks the employment of behind-the-scenes women on top grossing U.S. Films, in 2023 women only accounted for 22% of directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 grossing films, down from 24% in 2022 and 25% in 2021 (the record high of the past quarter century). In terms of directors specifically, women accounted for only 14% of the directors in 2023’s top 100 grossing films.[3] So not only do women only make up a fraction of directors, they are underrepresented behind the scenes more generally.

However, hiring more female directors, statistically, could improve both of these problems. Movies helmed by female directors tend to employ significantly more women behind the scenes than movies with male directors (with women in films directed by women accounting for 61% of writers, 35% of editors, 10% of cinematographers, and 26% of composers as opposed to 9% of writers, 18% of editors, 7% of cinematographers and 11% of composers in films directed by men).[4]

But how does all of this relate to the Oscars ®? Would more women being nominated for the Academy Awards correlate to more women in positions of power in Hollywood? As it turns out, yes. Winning, and even being nominated for, an Oscar ® as a writer or director increases the odds of being hired by major studios and receiving support for one’s projects. In fact, prior to becoming involved with Barbie, Greta Gerwig was nominated for an Oscar ® for Little Women, which arguably made her a viable candidate to produce Barbie. Acknowledgement by the Academy is a significant factor in career advancement, and the more films directed by women, the more women are hired to work in Hollywood.

When Ruth Bader-Ginsberg was asked when there would be enough women on the Supreme Court, she famously responded: “When there are nine.” And when she was challenged, she explained that for much of history there were after all nine men on the Supreme Court. For the Oscars ®, an Awards Show where for much of history all five nominated directors have been men, it would be great to see a nomination slate with women in the majority, or to be as bold as Ruth, to look forward to when there are five.


[2] Greta Gerwig wasn’t the only director overlooked for an Oscar nomination | CNN


[4]  ‘Barbie’ Broke Records, but Studios Employed Fewer Female Directors (

This article is intended as a general discussion of these issues only and is not to be considered legal advice or relied upon. For more information, please contact RPJ Partner Nicole Page who counsels clients in areas of entertainment, employment and intellectual property. Ms. Page is admitted to practice law in New York and the United States District Courts for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York.