Whether you like it or not, there is no doubt Barbie has had the rebrand of the century. Greta Gerwig’s movie starring Margot Robbie has everyone asking, who is Barbie? And every feminist asking, do we like her now? Can we like her now? From America Ferrera’s iconic monologue to the Ken of it all, this movie definitely evoked a reaction. LatinaMediaCo co-founders Nicola Schulze and Cristina Escobar are here to unpack our feelings about Barbie, her history as capitalism and sexism’s previous sweetheart, and where this movie leaves us.
NICOLA SCHULZE: So let’s talk about the Barbie of it all. I didn’t play too much with them growing up, but I was definitely given them. Specifically, I remember I was given a Selena Barbie, which actually after researching I don’t think was an actual Barbie, and a Pocahontas Barbie (problematic, I know). I remember I loved that they had hair like mine and darker skin but I also remember being intimidated, specifically by their bodies and femininity. They were beautiful. At that point in my life, I was a self-described tomboy, and everything I did or wanted was in defiance of everything feminine from clothes, to movies, to dolls – and especially Barbie. I saw them as toys for girly girls and didn’t want to be put in that bucket. So if and when I did play with dolls, it was in secret. Did you have Barbies?
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: My mom didn’t want me to have them but her mom, my grandmother bought them for me anyways. I do remember playing with them some, but I was more into stuffed animals. That said, I have this strong memory of being in the car with my mom, I must have been seven or eight, and my mom says to me “You know you don’t have to look like Barbie, right?” And I was thinking, “What is she talking about? How could I possibly look (or want to look) like a twelve-inch plastic doll?” I didn’t say that though, just “Yes, Mom, I know.” It felt silly at the time but I guess it was significant as I still remember it. Feminist mom for the win!
NICOLA SCHULZE: We love that! When I was young, I felt Barbie and girly stuff was holding me back. I wanted to be respected. I internalized and perceived the girls and women who were overtly feminine didn’t receive as much respect. As I got older, my feelings about what the world defines as feminine evolved. Now, I actually love pink and love playing with ideas around femininity, whether it’s the movies I watch or how I express myself. I see clearly now that my feminine frustrations were largely the patriarchy talking. But my feelings around Barbie have not evolved and were probably the same until I saw the trailer for the Barbie movie.
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: Oh, there was so much marketing for this movie! As a mom of a six-year-old girl, I had to explain to her why she wasn’t going opening weekend, which was hard. But this isn’t a movie for little kids! It’s all about unpacking and discovering gender norms and that only makes sense if you’ve been through that journey – Barbie’s journey in the film – yourself. My daughter is, thankfully, still in a feminist/girl-power bubble and I intend to keep it that easy for as long as possible.
NICOLA SCHULZE: Coming at it as a film-lover rather than a mom, the first thing I noticed was everyone involved both in front of and behind the camera. I love Greta Gerwig, and initially, I saw some irony in the fact that America Ferrera was cast in a main role in Barbie. When I saw Lady Bird, I, like many Latinas, instantly saw the parallels to Real Women Have Curves. So to see America be central to the story was exciting. I wonder how much intention Gerwig had when deciding to cast America, an actress who through Ugly Betty, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and more was one of the few Latinas on TV and in movies that looked like me. And as we know, Greta always makes sure in every movie to include “that speech” and I am so glad she gave it to America.
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: I loved and was frankly surprised by how much Barbie celebrated motherhood. America’s part is pivotal. She’s the one who has the knowledge Barbie needs, which is great, but she’s also going through her own journey. I loved that she wasn’t just a helper. And I also appreciated the critique of the old-school, but still present type of motherhood that encourage us to sacrifice everything for our kids (to “stand still” in the movie’s parlance).
NICOLA SCHULZE: I love a movie like this. A movie where the director doesn’t treat me like I’m dumb but also I leave in a happy nostalgic state. This emotional lane is the sweet spot for me, especially now. I think for many of us, especially women and gender-expansive folks, there are so many reasons to be sad, from climate disaster to immigration, to reproductive justice. It’s just a lot and I respect a movie that can take me into a world where I don’t necessarily forget but that gives me something – a little bit of hope, joy, and a tinge of nostalgia. Throw in a powerful mother-daughter relationship and I’m in tears, happy cathartic tears but tears nonetheless.
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: I did not cry at this movie! Even though I do cry all the time but Barbie certainly worked for me. Going in, I was worried it wasn’t going to be feminist enough, wasn’t going to bring in all of the complex conversations people (including kid me and my mom) have been having about Barbie for decades. But I actually thought it did a really good job. It celebrates the feminine – our aesthetic, our childhoods, our right to play. But it doesn’t ignore that the real world sees us very differently and places real limits on us. There were a few moments where I wished the movie had donned an intersectional lens – a couple of times characters say “all women” and while their statements weren’t false, they were perhaps a little simple.
NICOLA SCHULZE: Completely agree. I was left wanting a more intersectional storyline. One where maybe we see President Barbie’s backstory, or a flashback of Doctor Barbie’s time in medical school, or Gloria at work to see more of her world before she leaves for Barbieland. However, I understand this movie was the Barbie origin story and an ensemble approach is a harder sell for Mattel. I think this film largely does what all good films aspire to do, evoke a response. Barbie creates the framework for a conversation about feminism, gender roles, and leaves us to answer how we want our culture to evolve.
CRISTINA ESCOBAR: Overall, I thought the movie was a useful entry into the canon, finding a way to discuss Gerwig’s feminist perspective in a fun, accessible, and pink way. I look forward to watching the film again with my daughter in a few years. And in the meantime, I may re-wear the all-pink outfit I put together for my trip to the theater. It made me feel powerful and pretty and proud and that’s a win for Barbie in my book.