What Went Wrong With The Barbie Movie
By Kennedy Hall
While enjoyable and aesthetically pleasing, the Barbie movie lacked discussion of the intersectionality in feminism because of race. Barbie has themes of feminism, specifically white feminism. Was it a cute, witty, and quirky movie? Yes. However, groundbreaking and revolutionary? No, it was not, and maybe that was the goal. The film tried to convey a very loaded message in an hour and 54 minutes; there is only so much that can be said in that time frame, and they could have used that time better. Greta Gerwig, the writer of Barbie, did her best to address sexism, patriarchy, and misogyny in the simplest terms. It is supposed to be a palatable and safe movie. This is not to refute this movie's impact on the culture. Barbie has given the platform for people to discuss and think about how the patriarchy harms women in everyday life on a much grander scale. However, this is to discuss what could have been done better. The Barbie movie had a very narrow vision of what feminism is, and to ignore the impact that race has on women really cheapened the story.
Greta Gerwig is a white woman, so it is understandable that she only writes from the perspective she knows. However, having more range in how the stories of womanhood are told should be a manageable amount to ask for, especially for the themes in a movie such as Barbie. Gerwig is one of many in the writers' room and not the only person making edits. And the actresses could have voiced what they have experienced to help add to the story's dialogue. It could have been more collaborative. The effort was made to have a diverse cast but not to tell the various stories of womanhood and how other women experience sexism and misogyny differently because of race. It felt very performative. And with America Ferrera, a Latina actress, cast as Gloria, and Issa Rae, a Black actress, cast as President Barbie, there was ample opportunity to have that discussion. Sure, the audience was not expecting Barbie to encompass everything under the sun about feminism. Regardless, a simple acknowledgment of race, especially for Ferrera's character, would have gone far and added more depth to the story.
For example, because Gloria is Latina, they could have written about how the white beauty standards that Barbie portrayed played a role in how she viewed herself as a child and affected her as an adult. There was even a line in the movie about Barbie being a white savior, and they never went back to elaborate on that point. It was just a quick and witty moment. One of the worst lines in the movie is when Gloria compares indigenous genocide to the patriarchy in Barbieland. "Oh My God, this is like in the 1500s with the Indigenous People and smallpox. They had no defenses against it." How did that manage to leave the writing room? It's a very poorly written joke. They did not even address race in the movie, so they should not make a joke referring to indigenous genocide. Or even when Barbie goes to the real world and discovers that women are not treated equally to their male counterparts. That could have been a teaching moment for how a Black, trans, or disabled Barbie would have felt in that environment. If a beautiful, thin, white, blonde woman feels all the pressure of society and oppression, imagine how women who do not fit that beauty standard experience the world.
To end, Bell Hooks leaves us with this quote from Ain't I A Woman: Black Women and Feminism, 1981:
"It is obvious that many women have appropriated feminism to serve their own ends, especially those white women who have been at the forefront of the movement, but rather than resigning myself to this appropriation, I choose to reappropriate the term' feminism,' to focus on the fact that to be 'feminist' in any authentic sense of the term is to want for all people, female and male, liberation from sexist role patterns, domination, and oppression."