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The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Unboxing Greta Gerwig’s talent beyond ‘Barbie’

Shavonne Chin

There are a few things as high stakes for a media lover as the Oscar nominations. The categories are always stacked, but always full of “snubs,” and every year without fail, the Academy decides a movie no one has ever heard of is worthy of the famed awards (this year’s pick was “Nyad,” which I personally thought was the fictional college in “Glee.”).

“Barbie,” one of the most talked about movies of the last year, racked up an impressive eight nominations. But Greta Gerwig was notably missing from the Best Director category. The internet quickly erupted as reactions began to pour in and debates fired off for what felt like an excruciatingly long couple of days.

Some were upset about the perceived snub and moved on with their lives. But for many, a larger conversation sprung up as posts and TikToks began popping up faster than I’ve ever seen with people arguing about anything and everything. From using whataboutism, to claims that those talking about the nominations didn’t care about other world issues, to those discussing whether or not Gerwig even deserved a nomination to begin with. Just about everyone had something to say.

I’ve never been the kind of person who cares too much about movies. I’m eternally the person who responds with “Oh, I’ve never seen it,” when mentions of cult classics pop up in conversation. I tried to force myself into a cinephile phase, but quickly realized I will always prefer a good TV show instead.

I’ve seen about seven movies in my life, and two of them are “Ratatouille.”

But all of that changed for me on a December evening at a small movie theater in Tennessee in 2019. I was out of state visiting family, and somehow we’d managed to wrangle my mom, aunts and cousins of all ages to the movies to see a new film adaptation that had just come out.

It was, of course, “Little Women,” directed by none other than Gerwig. I was utterly entranced. I’d read the book as a young girl, but something about Gerwig’s vision resonated completely differently with me as an 18-year-old floundering somewhere between girlhood and womanhood.

So naturally, I, like thousands of others, flocked to theaters in July 2023, dressed in as much pink as I could muster out of my closet. It had been months of lead up to the phenomenon that would become “Barbie,” and one of the most popular films of the summer had finally arrived.

Sitting in the theater to see “Barbie” was the first time I realized exactly why people love movies so much. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it was a visceral reaction that I had only ever once experienced in a theater, almost four years ago when I watched “Little Women.”

The general attitude surrounding the film seemed to be pretty consistent with the way the movie had resonated with me. Audiences, mostly made up of women, gathered in theaters in droves of pink. Articles were written about the brilliance of “Barbie.” And yet, just like anything else that has ever been loved in an online sphere, the tides began to change.

It would be naive and baseless to insinuate that media should exist in a world without criticism. No piece of art is above the thoughts of those who consume it, and as someone who has spent a very large amount of my life writing words about anything and everything I’ve watched, I’m the last person to raise the argument that reviews and critics do not have a place in entertainment.

But the switch-up surrounding “Barbie” and the extensively rolling criticism of Gerwig and her directorial choices came quickly and dropped hard. Suddenly the film was either too devoid of feminism — the themes explored were basic, ones that any woman in her right mind would know — or too feminist.

Films that deal with societal and cultural issues will always be faced with an innumerable amount of criticism. They will always be too surface level for some, too in-depth for others, too cheesy, too theory-heavy, too focused on men or too focused on women. And those critiques all have a valid place in the bigger conversation about how the media we consume reflects the world we live in.

But to me, Gerwig’s work — and “Barbie” in particular — are not at their core about feminism, but about womanhood.

To me, it’s about the experiences I had while watching “Barbie” in theaters. It’s the way two older women whooped and cheered after Gloria’s monologue. To me, it’s my friend grabbing my hand and whispering in my ear, “That’s going to be you!” when Journalism Barbie won a Pulitzer Prize. And to me, it’s about the way my mom grabbed my hand after hearing “We mothers stand still so our daughters can look back to see how far they’ve come” as tears dripped silently down my cheek.

The world is messy and complicated and often very scary at times, especially for women. We all have lived experiences and intersecting identities that affect the way we interact with the world around us and how it interacts back with us. And for some, that might mean Gerwig’s films, and “Barbie,” hit as rudimentary.

But while I’ve never been a movie person, I have been a Greta Gerwig one. Through her films, about the complex and intersecting ways we experience the joys and burdens of womanhood, she taught me how to close my eyes and feel. And that’s worth more than any award nomination to me.

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Zoe Leone, Arts & Life Editor

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