Oscars 2024: America Ferrera Gives Barbie its Conscience, and an Edge

Ferrera has been nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 96th Academy Awards.
Oscars 2024: America Ferrera's Gives Barbie its Conscience, and an Edge
Oscars 2024: America Ferrera's Gives Barbie its Conscience, and an Edge

“It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong,” says Gloria (America Ferrera) just as she launches into a monologue about the maddening contradictions women have to come across in their day-to-day life. In Barbie, Ferrera’s Gloria is a Mattel employee who is navigating the frustrations of working at an overwhelmingly male workspace; her teenage daughter and her — for various reasons — are not as close-knit as they used to be. Not feeling like she is in control, she turns to the stereotypical barbie she has in possession for comfort, but infects her with her existential rumination — leading the Stereotypical Barbie in the Barbie World to have thoughts about death, and also, cellulite. 

Ferrera plays Gloria with a resigned frown, familiar for far too many women who have struggled to be heard in male-dominated spaces. There's a lot of determination still left in Gloria, and despite her experiences, she persists. But apart from this, there is little to her interiority. Before the big monologue in the Barbie movie, Ferrera was best known for playing Amy Sosa in Superstore, and Betty from Ugly Betty — both of them are vocal crusaders for the modern woman and work in corporate set-ups. As opposed to them, there is little freshness in Gloria’s characterisation, and even Ferrera’s earnest frustrations or philosophising cannot stay buoyant within the artifice of Barbie

The internet is divided on whether Gloria’s big speech was a much needed Feminism 101, or if it was a little too on-the-nose and the film betrays less confidence in its writing. Additionally, considerable debate surrounds Barbie because the Academy snubbed Greta Gerwig (co-writer and director) and Margot Robbie (producer and lead actress) in their respective categories. Ferrera’s surprise nomination, especially a welcome one given Oscars’ history sidelining latinx folks in the industry, was overshadowed by the shock of Gerwig and Robbie not getting nominated. 

The Best Supporting category  this year is brimming with incredible performances — from Da’vine Joy Randolph’s turn in The Holdovers, to Emily Blunt’s fierce Kitty in Oppenheimer. Ferrera is bringing a knife to a gunfight, but it is worth remembering in a film that is far too occupied in giving its Ken (Ryan Gosling) an arc, Gloria is the one who blazes in with steadfast purpose to anchor it. 

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