Barbie is the first live-action movie launched by Mattel, starring many A-list celebrities, including Margot Robbie as stereotypical Barbie and Ryan Reynolds as Ken. The film is directed by Greta Gerwig who is known for her award-winning works such as: Lady Bird and Little Women. The movie follows Barbie and Ken living their lives in picture-perfect Barbie Land and discovering that the real world is far from what they imagine. The trailer for Barbie made it nearly impossible to predict the direction of the movie, which made the film more intriguing.
Barbie is a timeless icon that was created by Ruth Handler in 1959 and was named after her daughter, Barbara. At the beginning of the film, the opening scene pays homage to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey featuring a group of young girls playing with unnamed dolls that catered only to the gender stereotypical roles of homemaking and motherhood. Soon after, an “alien-like” Barbie doll arrives from space, and the children flock to the modernized version of their beloved toy, leaving behind an era of dolls that restricted their views on womanhood. The scene provides the foundational understanding of what the Barbie doll was made for and its revolutionary impact on the roles of women in society as seen through the eyes of young girls. At the time, only baby dolls were available in the market. Ruth wanted to create a three-dimensional fashion doll where girls could imagine their future selves and can be anything they wanted to be. In the movie, Barbie is portrayed in different career roles following the production of Barbie Career Dolls by Mattel, such as President Barbie (played by Issa Rae), Supreme Court Justice Barbie (played by Ana Cruz Kayne), Doctor Barbie (played by Hari Nef) and many more.
The film explores womanhood in America Ferrera’s character as Gloria, a secretary to the Mattel CEO and a mother. In an interview with Etalk, America talks about how we have created a society where women are expected to let go of their childhood at an early age, while ‘men get to keep their man caves and play their video games forever’. As an adult woman, Gloria is portrayed in the movie as someone who continues to hold on to ‘the value of play’ and imagination, an attribute that came from her memories of playing with Barbies to spend time with her daughter. Being imaginative and childlike should not be seen as mutually exclusive to being a grown woman. As America Fererra would say, “We can be a lot of things at once.” We do not need to let go of our creativity and imagination as we step into adulthood. We can have both.
In one of the most powerful scenes in Barbie, America’s character delivers a captivating monologue to help the Barbies return to their senses after being brainwashed by Ken’s patriarchal takeover, turning Barbie Land into Kendom. She emphasizes the struggles that women face in modern-day society and how “it is literally impossible to be a woman” because, somehow, we’re always criticized for just being ourselves. It seems that we could never perfectly fit the mold of how society perceives how a woman should be. Although the expectations have changed overtime, there has always been an inherent standard that women must achieve to feel good about themselves and for society to accept them.
Greta Gerwig admits during an interview with ABC News that Barbie is a feminist film ‘in a way that includes everyone.’ Oftentimes people misinterpret the meaning of ‘feminism’, associating it with ‘misandry’ which is the belief that women are better than men. The true meaning of feminism stands for the equal acknowledgment of rights and opportunities for all genders. The idea of hyper-feminine, matriarchal Barbie Land, and patriarchy derived Kendom is a social commentary on the real world, demonstrating the issues that come with an imbalance of power. It not only addresses the pressures women face in the real world but also of men. Ken’s character arc focuses on the message that men do not need to be reliant on validation from others or their partners. As Ryan Reynold’s Ken would say, “I am K-enough.”
Barbieis a multi-layered film that encapsulates what it is like to be human, ironically told through the perspective of a doll. The film is written as an ode to women who have faced similar experiences navigating the harsh realities and exhilarating joy of being a woman. It is a beautiful, complex, and sometimes messy experience, but ultimately what makes us human. After unpacking the societal expectations and pressures that come with womanhood, Mattel agrees to create Ordinary Barbie to promote self-love and acceptance, paving the way for Margot Robbie’s Stereotypical Barbie to start a new chapter as she chooses to experience humanity in the real world.
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