Another Greta was robbed at the Oscars

While there are certainly choices that should be cause for celebration amongst the Oscars nominations, the decision to entirely overlook Greeta Lee – as well as Gerwig and Robbie – is a reminder of how deeply flawed the Oscars can be.

The day that the Oscars nominations are published is, invariably, a day when the internet explodes. Social media becomes awash with cultural commentary and, generally, spitting criticism at any largely-agreed-upon terrible decision-making on the part of the Academy voters. 

This year, the controversy has mostly focused on snubs of Barbie, as neither its director, Greta Gerwig, nor its leading actress, Margot Robbie, were nominated in their respective categories. Ryan Gosling, however, has secured a nomination for Best Supporting Actor. As observed by Hannah Diviney of Missing Perspectives, the acknowledgement of Gosling’s work in favour of recognising both Gerwig and Robbie is a brutally ironic turn of events, considering the movie is largely about patriarchal injustice and the seeming impossibility of navigating modern feminism. 

“It’s hard not to hope this is one final masterful ploy, a punking set to prove the pervasiveness of patriarchy, delivered with a wink and a nod to the audience that will soon be revealed to have all been a game. But nothing comes,” Diviney writes. 

While the furor around Barbie’s snubs are entirely understandable, given the film’s immense cultural impact as well as the fact that Gerwig is the first female director to bring in more than a billion dollars at the box office, there is another story worth studying in the Oscar nominations – and that’s what happened to Greta Lee of Past Lives. 

For those who may not have seen it yet (and the consensus from critics is that you really must), Past Lives is an A24 production that follows the story of Nora (played by Lee), a writer living in New York City after moving away from South Korea and her childhood love, Hae Sung (Teo Yoo). The film is an intimate meditation on trying to reconcile who you were once with who you are now, as well as the love and cultural language lost along the way. 

Although the specific ache of coming to terms with being a diasporic young adult is at the heart of Past Lives, it quickly became beloved for capturing the heart-rending, universal pain of choosing one path over another and learning to say goodbye. It also features one of the more devastating final scenes produced in recent years and is well reputed for having made audiences weep openly and loudly in theatres. 

Lee’s portrayal of Nora, described by the New York Times as “terrific and subtle” was particularly exciting, given the actress’ resume thus far. Before Past Lives, Lee, who is 40-years-old, had only landed supporting roles in productions like The Morning Show, Spider-Man: Across the Spiderverse, and Netflix’s Russian Doll (she’s the woman standing in the kitchen smoking a joint and sing-shouting “Sweet birthday baby!” at Natasha Lyonne).

And yet, with Past Lives, Lee seemed to prove herself in an immediate and brilliant way as somebody who had been seriously underestimated by Hollywood. Lee was so sidelined, in fact, that she was originally turned down to play Nora due to her age and, to add insult to injury, in the weeks afterwards she received a call from an agent who had rung her by accident, thinking they were calling Greta Gerwig instead. 

While Past Lives wasn’t a commercial success in the arena of say, Barbie or Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer (because nearly nothing is), it was a surprising box office hit internationally and became one of the most talked-about movies of 2023. Besides featuring Lee in her first major role, the film is all the more remarkable given that it was the debut of the Korean-American-Canadian playwright, Celine Song, who both directed and wrote the film. 

Song has received multiple nominations and awards for her work, both as the director and writer of Past Lives and now the film is up for both Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay at the Oscars, which is a triumph. However, when the Oscars nominations were published on Wednesday morning, Greta Lee was a conspicuous miss for a nomination as Best Actress. This was particularly confusing given how well she has done on the awards circuit so far – in recent months she’s won a Critics’ Choice Award, as well as being nominated for a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild Award, and an Independent Spirit Award. 

There has been steep criticism of the Academy for failing to recognise Lee’s performance, among others, with many on social media accusing the voting body of shunting aside great acting in favour of people who did the “most acting”. This means that reserved and poignant performances like Lee’s in Past Lives, are overlooked in favour of movies that call for bigger choices. As writer Daniel Cruise observed in Collider, “There is a special strength to a performance that can communicate so much without being explicit or emphatic”. 

While there are certainly choices that should be cause for celebration amongst the Oscars nominations (Native American Lily Gladstone’s nomination for Best Actress for Killers of the Flower Moon among them), the decision to entirely overlook Lee – as well as Gerwig and Robbie – is a reminder of how deeply flawed the Oscars can be.

When the female talent that made real, global waves doesn't even make the shortlist, it can only lead audiences to question the relevance that the Oscars holds at all.