Saturday, June 22

Robbing Robbie

I was once nominated for an award that I probably should have won.

I knew it, and everyone at the Writers Guild Screenwriters Awards knew it. The drunker people got, the more forthcoming they were with their feelings that I was the victim of a great injustice.

I had been robbed.

I lost to an Asian woman writing about Asian women. I wondered at the time if an Australian-born Jew’s slew of off-color jokes about Māori courtship (The nomination was for the first series of ‘Find Me A Māori Bride’) turned off some of the judges, and, by comparison, the eventual winner had been the more politically palatable choice.

But this is all speculation. It is completely possible that the judges thought the other show was funnier. But I lost and – as someone who values my outsider status in the industry (or has embraced what I cannot change) – I was OK with it.

Sorry. No.

I was pissed off.

I recall a theatre director friend’s comment on the Chapman-Tripp awards – that they meant absolutely nothing… until you won one. Funny how awards work that way. They are an empty bauble signifying membership of some corrupt boys or girls or (add name here) club, right up until the moment your name chirrups out the PA system. At that moment, this symbol of institutionalized fraud becomes the least dust-coated artifact on your mantel.

Some of us don’t pull off a complete U-turn on the corruption bit, however. We may still accept ongoing industry problems but view our win as a bloody good sign that reform is taking place and that maybe we should all wait and see, now with a good degree of hope.

The Barbie snubs at this year’s Oscars prompted an expected backlash from all the usual suspects. Hillary Clinton – the Queen of 7-figure feminism – posted on X in support of the slighted director and lead actress, along with a hashtag she hoped would fuse her forever to the Barbie brand. Clinton – who lost the U.S. presidency to Donald Trump in 2016 – had run her campaign on the message “I’m with her” which seemed to be telling voters to put aside their own hardships and concerns in order to make this mind-bogglingly rich candidates’ personal dream come true. A pity. The most painless of rewrites could’ve quickly produced “I’m with you”.

And it’s not like Barbie director Greta Gerwig was snubbed altogether: she was nominated for best screenplay along with partner, Noah Baumbach. And Ryan Gosling was nominated for Ken – which only drew more attention to the No-nod Robbie for her role as the titular character.

In a world where we had real justice, the remedy would’ve been to deny Gosling, not to recognize Robbie. To honor either of these performances would make one question why the late Paul Reubens wasn’t recognized for any of the Pee Wee Herman movies. While approximate stylistically, both performances fall miles short of Reuben’s artistry and originality.

And if – as many suggest – Barbie’s billion-dollar haul made director and best actor nominations undeniable, spare a thought for Home Alone (1990) that made $1,117,146,870.70 in today’s money. What made Macaulay Culkin’s performance any less convincing than Robbie’s?

But is being overlooked for a nomination so bad? Isn’t it kind of the point of the film? You could even argue the politics of the Barbie movie were designed to paint awards show – and the commentariat – into a corner: to set up a game of ‘chicken’ with the Academy. For Gerwig, there really is no losing, especially in the new world of constant outrage where railing against an awards show decision can be far more headline-grabbing than winning.

And maybe awards shows are even happy to play the villain – to feed scandals they may consider vital to a passe form of entertainment. Mattel, who co-produced Barbie, has 5 women on its 11-person board but presented the board in the film as being all-male to be in sync with the message of the movie. Extraordinary when you think about it, but no one does woke better than massive corporations.

Barbie’s mastery, at the end of the day, was in how it managed to convince people that its conformist messaging was somehow bold and dangerous. To sell this idea, a lot of institutions need to play their part.

I wish I could tell you I managed to spin my failure into a PR coup but I didn’t. I left the party early, ate a kebab, and called a sometime lover who didn’t pick up. So while I may not have ended the night optimistic about the bold new direction of our industry, I certainly felt like a writer.