Greta Gerwig Barbie is perhaps the most unabashedly feminist blockbuster of all time. It’s hardly the first, and the rose-hued paradise might not seem the most revolutionary, but this movie is for women, Through women, about women – and that is something new and necessary in this industry. Gerwig’s earlier films Lady Bird And Little women deftly dealt with women’s issues and experiences, but Barbie sees the writer and director create her own feminine mystique for the modern woman.
A blockbuster aimed at women
Barbie joins the small but growing group of blockbusters bringing women and their stories to the biggest screens imaginable. From the original output of the Alien And terminator franchises to recent hits such as The Queen of Women and those from Marvel Black Widow And Captain Marvel, women have been able to make a big impact on the box office. However, a look back at these successful women’s films reveals a fairly small number of genres. Superheroes, robots, treacherous worlds with enemies and action galore: these are the main events. These trappings have long been the arena for iconic male characters, making it neat and novel when women take the lead role. Turning hero into heroine often makes for exciting and powerful films, but the benchmark (and audience) for these films is set by men.
Barbie breaks that mold as a film that is shamelessly feminine. The film is infused with pink, the conflict is emotional in nature, and the more action-packed sequences turn into carefully choreographed and color-coordinated numbers. Like Margot Robbie’s stereotypical Barbie, the movie is stereotypically girly, but being “girly” doesn’t change that. Barbieit’s worth it. In fact, the movie has the most presale of any theatrical release this year.
Its early success is a paradigm shift in the way it elevates femininity. We live in a world (and, by extension, an entertainment industry) that sees masculinity as the default, as the baseline, as something inherently attractive to everyone; anything feminine in nature is alienating and limiting. Male dominated movies are for everyone, but girl movies are just for girls. Barbie challenges that by dominating the summer box office like a hyper-feminine film set.
Barbie‘s plot is feminist to the core
This section contains spoilers about Barbie.
Though uncontrollable thoughts of death redirect Margot Robbie’s Barbie to the fact that something is wrong, her fear of what is happening to her doesn’t really take hold until she discovers a patch of cellulite on her leg. It’s a beat played repeatedly for laughs throughout the movie, but it’s the first of many moments where the seemingly perfect Barbie discovers the self-awareness that comes with being a woman in a patriarchal society.
As she and Ken (Ryan Gosling) venture into the real world, she is confused about men ogling her with a remarkable “undertone of violence.” She doesn’t fully understand the ambiguities presented to her by a group of construction workers, but she notices they make lewd suggestions. Barbie’s ignorance of the patriarchy and the kind of behavior it normalizes is equal parts funny and relatable, while Ken’s instant affinity for the sexist hierarchy shows just how corrupting that promise of manpower is.
When Barbie and her new human compatriots Gloria (America Ferrera) and Sasha (Ariana Greenblatt) return to Barbieland to find it fully Kenergized, they must work together to free the other Barbies from the patriarchal spell. After Ferrera’s character delivers a powerful, chilling speech about the cognitive dissonance required under patriarchy, the Barbies rediscover their agency and autonomy and cement their power through the democratic political process – which is a kind of by-the-book feminism.
Feminism and discussions of gender inequality are an integral part of Barbie‘s plot, just like other blockbusters like Mad Max: Fury Road And Wonderwoman. The former directly attacks the objectification of women and focuses on reproductive rights, while Charlize Theron’s iconic Furiosa rescues a group of women forced to become wives and mothers of the tyrannical ruler of the post-apocalyptic world. In the latter film, director Patty Jenkins reimagined the superhero blockbuster into a female attacker, as Gal Gadot’s Amazonian warrior puts an end to man-made war and emphasizes truth, kindness, and justice.
Gerwig credits Wonderwoman for making a movie like Barbie possible: “There is no way we could have made this movie if [Jenkins] had not made Wonderwoman and it worked. That’s just true.” Adding to that relationship is the fact that neither Barbie nor Wonder Woman have any idea of the patriarchy or gender roles in their respective movie, and each confronts the backward reality she finds herself in with skepticism. But while like action movies crazy max And Wonderwoman about women coming face to face with the men who are their enemies, Barbie has his characters fight against the idea that these men would wield such unequal power in the first place.
A self-conscious representation of women
Barbie makes another feminist statement in the diversity and depth of the women cast in it, both in the real world and in Barbieland. It’s in a nod to the public that Robbie’s Barbie has been dubbed Stereotypical Barbie, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed, embellished embodiment of everyone’s first thought when they hear “Barbie.” The rest of her world is populated by dolls of all shapes, races and abilities, from Issa Rae’s President Barbie to Sharon Rooney’s Lawyer Barbie.
Several of the film’s actresses have made salient comments about the importance of showing as many different Barbies as possible. Rae noted that she was initially concerned that the film might be “too white feminist,” but came on board because of the self-consciousness of the script. Hari Nef, the trans model and actress who played Dr. barbie plays, Posted part of a letter she sent to Gerwig and Robbie about her casting, writing that “identity politics and cinema aren’t my favorite combination, but the BARBIE name looms large on every American woman.” She on noticed on the complexity of the doll’s legacy, pointing out that Barbie “represents such a strict norm created by the patriarchy that it deserves to be scrutinized, but also a promise of liberation and security and belonging.”
The film enters this debate with genuine humor and heart. Tween Sasha is more than justified in criticizing the long-term effects of Barbie’s looks and consumerist bent (although her impassioned cry of “FASCIST!” isn’t all that knowledgeable), but at the same time, Barbie finds beauty in every woman. In one of the film’s finest moments, Robbie’s character turns to an old woman and says she is beautiful; the woman happily replies, “I know.” Barbie knows its namesake is fraught with a history in which sexist ideas have been held as much as challenged, and the film confronts that tension head and shoulders.
Ultimately, feminism is in this film’s fantastically plastic DNA, from the script to the cast and release strategy. Women and their experiences are at the forefront of this Barbie tries to appeal to and represent, which is why it’s an exciting new entry into the annals of film history.