The Significance of America Ferrera in Barbie


“Gloria is the every woman,” says America Ferrera of her character in Barbie.

The same could be said about America herself. Her latest role as a working mother of a 14-year-old daughter has her again resonating with women everywhere. And it’s not just moms either. No, it’s every Ugly Betty, Real Woman with Curves, jean-wearing female member of a Sisterhood!

Leave it to America who has made an entire career out of portraying the everyday woman to absolutely shake a fictional fantasy land to its core. What’s even more impressive is that America does it in the most popular, imaginary place in mainstream pop culture… Barbie Land, knowing it will be seen out here in the real world.

Now that is talent.

On the surface, a story of a mama bear losing her cub is enough for an actress to chew on. Heck it might as well be an entire genre unto itself. Storywise that’s enough for an entire project. But Barbie isn’t an ordinary project, and America is far from an average artist. In fact, her role as Gloria is quite possibly one of the most significant roles onscreen to date for America – the country and the person. Here is why.

In Barbie, Gloria is glum to start. As her one-time tadpole turns into a teenager, this mama watches her daughter Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) go from merry to mournful. Once upon a time, mom and daughter dreamed and played with Barbie and her fun fictional friends. Now, Sasha has replaced her mom playmate and their almost 12-inch plastic princesses with preteen punks. Gloria is left out of her daughter’s dream house.

Work is not much better. She is stuck low on the totem pole even though her talents and interests make her much more suited for the boardroom.

“She has longtime dreams of climbing up the ladder at Mattel and influencing the brand of Barbie,” says America while promoting Barbie. “She’s inspired by Barbie. She’s committed to Barbie but she can’t really make the leap to kind of stand up for her dream and ask for the things she wants.” Who among us can’t relate?

What she wants is to be creative. Hell, underneath her “business on top” outfit, she’s rocking a hidden sparkly belt or pair of shoes, showing she at the very least she wants to be considered.

“If I am being honest, I wasn’t a Barbie girl. But it doesn’t mean that I don’t have feelings about Barbie,” said America Ferrera to a roomful of movie fans back in April.

By her own admission, America didn’t have Barbies among her toys. It wasn’t for a lack of interest, but rather a lack of money and representation.

“I don’t really remember the Barbie world ever resonating with me,” America told the LA Times. “I imagine that’s because I didn’t feel very represented or reflected by it.”

Yes, Barbie was among the first to plant the idea in young girls everywhere that they could be anything. Or rather, that they could be something other than a wife or mother. But for a long time that was only true of young Caucasian girls. Though Barbie was born in 1959, it wasn’t until 1980 that we Latinas saw the first Hispanic doll bearing the Barbie name. It took 21 years for the makers at Mattel to realize that brown babies should have other brown babies to play with. Or, other darker dolls to allow us to dream of a life different from our own.

Feel free to insert the darker skin face palm emoji here.

Fast forward and America (both the country and the woman) is front and center of the Barbie movie machine. Not only that, she comes out blazing with one of the most thoughtful, important, and relevant pieces of dialogue second to no one. A speech for the ages if you will. One that America delivered an estimated 30-50 times while shooting the scene for the movie.

“Never in a million years did I imagine that I would be part of a Barbie movie. I was the little girl who didn’t see myself in the mainstream culture around me, and I know how important it is to feel seen,” says America.

And America, the country, is seeing it. Barbie has claimed the #1 spot at the box office for two weeks in a row. That’s a dream come true for Warner Bros., for Greta Gerwig (the film’s director) and for this particular American girl.  Even if she isn’t Barbie in the movie, America is herself a Barbie.

How’s that for America? As she says in the movie, if you can’t see the significance of that, then “I don’t know.”

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