Billionaire Barbie


by Jonah Hodari

Margot Robbie, Alexandra Shipp, Ariana Greenblatt and America Ferrera in Barbie (2023)

For the past 6 months it has become impossible to go outside and not come across one word, “Barbie”. With a promotional budget ($150m) larger than the one for production itself ($140m), Greta Gerwig’s new record breaking film ‘Barbie’ has become something larger than just the must see event of the summer. The film has managed to promote itself and its merchandise in what seems to be every medium imaginable ranging from music to real estate. The film has even become a bit of a social political movement/stance, do you or do you not like Barbie? With its blatant critiques of patriarchy and gender discrimination the film has been met with much embrace from the public, as well as backlash with some saying it is discriminatory and “anti-men”. ‘Barbie’ has certainly secured its place in history being the all-time highest grossing film at Warner Brothers Studios ($1.4B+), and the highest grossing film from a female director ever (Gerwig). But with all of this rightful admiration and social discourse taking place, the conversations around ‘Barbie’ have become very synonymous and void of critique, at least outside of a gender context.

I spoke with multiple peers about the film and while many were obsessed, there were others who felt it missed the mark when it came to the story along with the message in the ending. And frankly, I have to agree. While the elaborate costume/production design kept my eyes captivated, I couldn’t help but feel lost in the narrative. The multiple storylines left me longing for more as I didn’t really know the characters outside of their archetypes: The Barbies, The Kens, The Parents, The Children, The Bad Businessmen, etc.. For a film that was about learning to understand ourselves and those around us, I never got a chance to sit or learn about anyone besides Barbie and Ken, and honestly they gave Ken more opportunities for catharsis.

Margot Robbie on the cover of VOGUE Magazine

"Many people have yet to call this Barbie resurgence for what it really is- a rebrand."

I watched America Ferrera and Ariana Greenblatt play a mother and daughter in a turbulent relationship, but never got context behind their turmoil nor did I ever see them do anything to repair it, they just reconciled in the final act and helped Barbie. Same goes for the ending as we watch Will Ferrell, the farcical and devious Mattel CEO, have a conversation with the Barbies about what Barbie means and its implications on the world. A very meta moment where the characters within a film get to address the producers of the film directly. Yet in the end nothing is changed at Mattel besides them possibly making a “Normal Barbie” doll in the future. This is a moment I felt could’ve been used to call out Mattel for its all male staff and maybe even suggest a change in their practices. But this never happens, instead the men continue to run the corporation while the Barbies and Kens make amends, and I believe there is a purposeful reason behind this.

‘Barbie’ is everywhere you look right now, clothing stores, ads, toys, food, etc., and within all of this commerce many people have yet to call this Barbie resurgence for what it really is, this is a rebrand. Barbie, owned by Mattel Inc. is an IP (Intellectual Property) brand that has been acquiring millions of dollars for the past eight decades releasing new products frequently. However, for the past decade Mattel was having some of its lowest sales due to negative social attitudes towards their toys and the dwindling toy industry as a whole; that was until the celebrities got involved. Mattel Inc. invited a myriad of well known faces to explore their inventory and select a toy IP that they’d like to adapt into a film. Multiple IP’s were selected and the first film released in a long line soon to come was of course ‘Barbie’ selected by Gerwig. And so that raises the question, what were the intentions behind this film? A social commentary on gender within our society all centered around a household icon (which I think it was for Gerwig), or just a new image for a product that will increase revenue? Both can be true, but both intentions should be addressed for what they are. Capitalistic institutions are historically known for aligning themselves with popular or ‘progressive’ movements in the public eye in order to profit and absolve themselves of critique (“BLM”, “Pride”, etc.). One could easily say the same for Mattel and Warner Brothers right now considering the state of the film industry.

Margot Robbie as Barbie in Barbie (2023)

SAG-AFTRA is currently on strike in Hollywood protesting against the unjust pay they receive for their services which are being threatened as a whole by the major studios. But if Warner Brothers has the biggest and most “progressive” movie of the summer then the discourse and headlines surrounding their companies shift. The film made over 1 Billion dollars and it’s amazing that so many people came together to support this piece of art, but there should also be attention to where this money is going and who will it benefit in the aftermath? The film clearly has a feminist message, but do the corporations behind it agree and will they do anything to actively support the feminist movement? Robbie Brenner, the Executive Producer of Mattel Films, and one of the four women on their executive leadership staff of eleven has explicitly said that she thinks ‘Barbie’ is “not a feminist film”.This raised many eyebrows from the public and only adds to my questioning of the intentions behind the films production and whether it was truly for progress or just profit. And just to clarify, I do not think that ‘Barbie’ itself is the issue at hand here, but it’s more what ‘Barbie’ represents in the grand scheme that concerns me. I’m cautious that people are considering certain brands, trends, and media forward thinking when it could just be a corporation that knows what the public is thinking and knows how to profit from it. All while not even truly supporting the social causes that their product aligns with. We are all witnessing a very pivotal time in entertainment right now and both the good and bad can exist at once, they often do. So while Barbie has become the people’s feminist icon for the 2020s which they have the right to do, we must also recognize that Barbie is a billionaire.

Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ken in Barbie (2023)

@r0vermag on INSTAGRAM