“Barbie” the Movie: Feminism or Marketing?

"Barbie" promises to be one of the year's biggest movies. There is talk of her feminist stir, but what is behind it?

Still from Barbie, the movie

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

LatinAmerican Post | July Vanesa López

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Leer en español: “Barbie” la película: ¿Feminismo o marketing?

In December 2016, Sony and Mattel announced the live-action of the most famous doll in the world: Barbie. Initially, Amy Schumer would be the one who would play the blonde cutie, but after a few months, she announced that she would withdraw from the project. Later, the comedian revealed that she stopped participating because her vision of her character was very distant from the producer's proposal. Time passed, the project went from Sony to Warner Bros, and Greta Gerwig entered the picture as co-writer and director.

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Before Gerwig was announced as the head of the film, the public had yet to show much interest. There are about 30 animated Barbie movies, plus four series. One more, even if it was in live action, was something familiar. On the other hand, the franchise was previously criticized for planting impossible beauty standards in millions of girls worldwide. This would not be celebrated but highly charged in the Me Too movement. However, with the arrival of Gerwig, the project took a rather unexpected turn. So incredible that, for many, the film about one of the characters furthest from feminism promises to be the new feminist revolution.

Greta Gerwig Came to Save "Barbie"

The American director became known in 2012 with "Frances-Ha," a film she starred in and directed by her partner, Noah Baumbach. Gerwig had already produced "Night and Weekends" in 2008, which went unnoticed. But in 2017, she returned as a director with "Lady Bird," which had the then-growing A24 as a producer. The film was nominated for several Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture, and won other awards. With this coming-of-age film, Gerwig established herself as the promise of female directing in the United States since, two years later, she was again nominated in the same categories for "Little Women," the adaptation of the classic by Louisa May Alcott.

Both "Lady Bird" and "Little Women" (and especially the latter) are films with clear feminist overtones. Gerwig managed to bring in the March sisters and give them an even more robust, resonant voice than they already had in the novel. Both films are funny but also disturbing and introspective. Her cinema leans towards the coming of age, which explores femininity in youth with its ups and downs.

That is why fans of the director and this new wave of cinema, very A24, were surprised when it was learned that Gerwig would direct and co-write "Barbie" with Noah Baumbach. Suddenly, moviegoers decided to look at live-action that they probably would never have seen if the director were someone else. And the whole situation only left one question: what will Gerwig do with "Barbie"? It was difficult a year ago to imagine what the film would be like, but little by little, the clues have become more present.

Margot Robbie playing Barbie and Ryan Gosling playing Ken was the subsequent announcement that hit the nail. Both actors with solid careers, and they are perfect for the role. Then came the teaser trailer based on "2001: A Space Odyssey," which caused a stir. The second trailer was released at the beginning of April, and the actors and actresses who play the other characters in the film were also announced. And in the latter, "Barbie" finished hooking viewers.

Feminism or Marketing?

Along with the latest teaser trailer, visual pieces were also presented with photos of the leading and secondary characters, accompanied by small texts that mentioned something about them. The image of the protagonist reads, "Barbie is everything." Then we see the photos of the other Barbies in which things like "This Barbie is a doctor," "This Barbie has a Nobel Prize in Physics," "This Barbie is on the Supreme Court of Justice," "This Barbie is President," "This Barbie is a famous author," etc. The phrases reference the franchise's catchphrase: "Be what you want to be."

With this advertising campaign, the film made it clear that Barbie is essential in the film's universe, and Ken is on a much lower plane. In contrast, we find the images of the Kens, who say, "He's just Ken," "He's just Ken too," "He's another Ken," and "You guessed it, he's just another Ken." The spectators did not wait in the readings, and the theories suggest that this is a feminist comment.

Now, several things need to be kept in mind. First, while Gerwig focuses on telling strong women's stories in her films, she never mentions that her movies are meant to be feminist. There are feminist overtones, but this is always from the readings of the spectators. Second, Mattel has sought to renew itself over the years in response to criticism of the false idea of femininity they have sold. Today there are racially diverse dolls in a state of physical disability, large sizes, and even transgender. Barbie recognizes itself as a brand that empowers girls by inviting them to follow their passion, giving them the example of a doll that can have any career. Third, the brand has had a massive impact on minorities such as the LGBTIQ+ community and has been adopted by the queer community as a symbol.

The 2018 documentary "Taking Barbie Apart" delves inside the toy giant to explore how the work of those behind the brand's ideas has evolved. In it, we discovered, for example, that most women work in the company. In addition, it is evident how Mattel has sought to reinvent itself by targeting an audience that is more aware of the mistakes that the brand can make and has made.

All these factors allow us to see that Barbie has had an impact on the part of progressive thinking, more than feminist, and in that order of ideas, the brand has been transformed. It makes sense that Gerwig was chosen to lead the film concerning marketing strategies. Ultimately, Barbie is a brand that needs to continue to bill and is thoughtful about adapting to the needs of its current audience. It should be noted that no matter how much feminist overtones are seen in Gerwig's tapes, her feminism would be whitewashed and not interdisciplinary. Therefore, the film cannot be required to comply with political and cultural standards either. The reason "Barbie" has caused such a stir among an audience with progressive undertones is partly nostalgia and an outstanding ad campaign.

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