They might have been the two hardest films to bring to the screen last year—but goodness, what outfits, revelations and conversations they inspired. 

That’s why I am so annoyed by the omission of Greta Gerwig and Ava Duvernay from the Best Director category among the 2024 Oscar nominations announced this morning. What it shows is that the Academy remains old-school not just in their support of women and people of color (remember when we cared about diversity and trends like #OscarsSoWhite would go viral?), but that they don’t highly regard the discourse a film prompts off screen. 

Barbie achieved the impossible: Getting people across races and generations to wear pink and rally around girl power. This was in stark contrast to the moms who (eventually, rightfully) refused to allow their daughters to play with Barbie due to its dangerous messages regarding body image and whiteness. 

Me, my daughter, her friend dressed up for the film

I’m firmly Gen X and so my Barbies were doctors, astronauts, business owners. In my close-knit Indian community, my parents were considered a revolution because they allowed me to have Ken—and pack them in the car on hours-long drives to family friends’ houses for dinner parties and prayer services. My Kens got so much action as we played upstairs while the adults sang religious songs in the living room. 

My two girls went on to build Barbie empires of different races and sizes; bigger hips and more elaborate props like corner offices and private planes they steered … like a boss. 

Barbie has evolved, the film reminds us, and so must we.

Similarly, the lessons from “Origin” linger long after the film has ended. Days after seeing it, I am still getting text messages from multiple communities, including my own desi one, on my reaction. I cannot think of another film (or frankly, a moment) that is prompting us to find such reflection on history and connection to each other. And what mastery it demonstrates for Duvernay to translate such dense ideas —that our divisions are highly orchestrated and manipulated for the preservation of power—  from Isabel Wilkerson’s winning tome called “Caste” into accessible ones. 

Duvernay on the set in India. Photo courtesy of Origin.

In the parlance of media and marketing, these are supposed “engagement” plays and demonstrate the “long tail” of content. But in the raison d’etre of arts of culture, their impact, human to human, is what matters most. 

The failure to recognize what these two female directors achieved is an insult to their ultimate feat: building real understanding of who we are in relation to ourselves and each other. That feels ever impossible, and yet continues to remain invisible, in these fractured times. 

S. Mitra Kalita a veteran journalist, media executive, prolific commentator and author of two books. In 2020 she launched Epicenter-NYC, a newsletter to help New Yorkers get through the pandemic. Mitra has also recently co-founded a new media company called URL Media, a network of Black and Brown owned media organizations that share content, distribution, and revenues to increase their long-term sustainability. She’s on the board of the Philadelphia Inquirer and writes a weekly column for TIME Magazine and Charter. Mitra was most recently SVP at CNN Digital, overseeing the national news, breaking news, programming, opinion, and features teams.