For all of its 59 years of life Barbie, the worlds’ most famous doll, has always been a controversial figure. When she was ‘born’ in 1959 Barbie was the first ever doll shaped as a woman, with breasts even, as up to this point in time children’s dolls had only been babies. Scorned by the male Buyers for Toy Stores, but very quickly adopted by mothers everywhere, Barbie never looked back, that is until now.
Young girls may never have given any real thought about the significance of their new favorite toy, but very many adults did. Barbie was criticised for being white, blonde, skinny, feminist and sexist igniting heated discussions about gender roles, white supremacy, and body image. This, however, certainly did not dent sales which in 1959 were $351000 and less than 10 years later rose to 500 million and made it maker Mattel a Fortune 500 Company. Later its Sales peaked at $1.9 billion.
Now this new documentary from filmmaker Andrea Blaugrund Nevins goes behind the scenes at Mattel as they face up to the reality of plummeting sales, and as they recognize that Barbie is in need of a rebirth of some kind. Whilst over the years her wardrobe and accessories have been constantly updated in line with fashion trends, nothing else has changed at all. Evidently, altering her body shape to something more realistic has been up for discussion regularly over the years but had always stymied by the bosses with ‘this just isn’t the right time’.
Intent on finally introducing Barbies who are curvier (the word fatter is NEVER used) and taller etc, the whole Matell Team start planning Project Dawn with its very own ‘War Cabinet’ who know that very continued existence of Company relies on getting the more contemporary Barbie exactly right.
At the same time in 2016, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris is devoting a major retrospective exhibition of Barbie. It’s a very important event but again it is honoring her history, at a time when Mattel is desperate to ensure her future too.
Nevins engaging and rather charming film presents a well-balanced viewpoint which nevertheless is a flattering profile on the whole Barbie team. The only one gets short change is Ken, Barbie’s long-suffering (and very obviously closeted gay) boyfriend who in a blatantly act of sexism, is dismissed as a mere accessory.