Barbie: Revolutionizing cinema?

Posted: November 8, 2023

Nicolas Freeman, theater teacher at Minnehaha Academy, had just finished watching the newly released movie Barbie. As he walked out of the movie theater, a thought occurred to him, “I was sad that I didn’t wear more pink.”

Pink. Most likely the first color that comes to mind when you think of Barbie, doll or movie. Sparkly, hot pink is often associated with the eleven-inch plastic doll created by Ruth Handler in 1959 and manufactured by Mattel, Inc., which would eventually become a multinational American toy company.

Barbie was imagined by Handler and named for her daughter, Barbara Millicent. On a trip to Europe, her daughter purchased a doll which came with one outfit. It was disappointing to Barbara that she could not change the doll’s outfits, so they purchased multiple dolls to obtain multiple outfits.

Returning home to the United States, Handler told her husband, a co-founder of Mattel, that they should manufacture the doll but also produce and market mul-
tiple outfits for the doll each sold separately. When Barbie was in-
troduced to the world, there was controversy that followed. Handler
believed that Barbie should have
an adult appearance.

With Mattel creating a child’s toy which is fully developed, parents began to think that Barbie was not appropriate for children. This led to critics and media having heated debates about the toy being “too sexual.” Over the years, the doll raised contentious questions and assumptions about women in our society: How should women’s bodies look? And what roles should women have in the world?

It is unclear if Handler and Mattel were trying to create these stereotypes stemming from one of their products or just producing a doll that would appeal to children.

Fast forward sixty years later to this summer’s release of the movie Barbie on July 21, which was almost 15 years in the making.

“The movie was not what I expected it to be at all,” said senior Katie Lehmann.

Nothing could have prepared the world for the success and recognition this movie has faced thus far. Barbie brought in more than $1 billion in box office sales, as well as the biggest opening day release in American theaters.

“Everyone wanted to see the movie in theaters,” said sophomore Brooke Siwek.

While Barbieland might have looked too good to be true, everything on set was made from scratch and not computer-generated. This included the picture perfect Barbie dream houses and the Mojo Dojo Casa House where Ken tried to re-
store the “normal” power balance between men and women. Production designer Sarah Greenwood and set designer Katie Spencer worked together to create a world deemed fit for a Barbie.

“I really liked the set, I thought it was well thought out,” said first-year Nathanim Tekle.

With pink gleaming from every object on the set, the demand for pink paint was enormous, which led to a global shortage in order to fulfill the set. Many who went to see this movie dressed in pink as a way of supporting the theme of the movie, and expressing themselves through their fashion choices.

However, as soon as Barbie arrived in cinemas, it renewed important conversations about womens’ role in society and about women generally. Directed by Greta Gerwig, a widely celebrated movie director, this film presents womanhood as the main theme; balancing feminism with humor, and more
serious topics like the struggles of women in our society. The movie was about more than child’s doll.

“I thought it was a really good
starting point for some interesting questions,” said Minnehaha librarian Dora Wagner.

The movie does not only challenge gender norms, but is a strong film presenting female empowerment in a non-threatening lighthearted manner.

“Women have been suppressed in many ways and it’s okay to challenge those concepts,” said Freeman.

The rich theme of womanhood in the movie has caused many debates questioning if this movie is in some ways “anti-men.” Various right-wing critics have voiced their views that Barbie is a “man-hating film” and were disappointed in the subordinate role of the Ken dolls, like stereotypical Ken played by Ryan Gosling.

In R/Men’s Rights, a subreddit with over 350,000 members, one comment indicated that the movie, “Seriously, kept putting men down, making them look like second-class citizens.”

Other commenters quickly lashed back, expressing that viewers misread the message of the movie all together, with the majority of responses explaining that the movie is in no way trying to put men down or to portray females dominating men. It shows that women make contributions to society which are as important as men. However, Barbie does depict a role reversal.

“It just showed what it would look like if the roles were reversed between men and women in our society,” said Siwek.

Gerwig thoughtfully and intricately pieced together the scenes in this film, inserting humorous dialogues, and then intertwining more emotional scenes like char-
acter Gloria’s monologue on the struggles of being a woman. Glo-
ria, played by America Ferrera, vocalized that perfection is not im-
possible but it’s also not necessary or healthy.

“You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough,” voiced Gloria to Barbie. “We always have to be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.” Gloria’s speech was not only powerful but uplifting to many women around the world.

“I think that it did a really interesting job of exploring Barbie, and feminism and misogyny all while making me laugh,” Wagner said.

“It was really inspirational to me, coming from a man, just to see the woman’s perspective, it was really interesting,” said junior Quincy Starling.

After seeing Barbie you may find yourself examining societal differences between women and men, which hopefully will create better awareness for everyone.

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