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Barbie: Intersectional Masterpiece or White Feminism At Its Finest?

Updated: Sep 1, 2023

By: Antonette Kamara

The past few months have been pink. Pink Crocs, pink frozen yogurt, and even pink sauce for a Barbie-themed Burger King cheeseburger. The Barbie movie has been a cultural phenomenon we haven’t seen possibly since before COVID-19. People are excited again to get dressed up and go to the movies. To make things even better, Barbie has turned out to be worth the hype, with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 88%.

Many critics have praised Greta Gerwhig's parallel universe run by women. But among all this hype and commotion where are the black women in the Dreamland? Almost from the beginning, President Barbie, who is played by Issa Rae, a dark-skinned black woman, is given prominence. Though this might be a wonderful symbol of how far the world has come, as shown in the film, the real world is nothing like Barbie Land.

In the Barbie dreamland, women run everything, and all the constant microaggressions women face every day are magically erased. Everyone gets along because men don't run everything. The perils of womanhood are all addressed and taken care of in the Barbie dreamland. Right? Wrong. What about the heightened experiences of black women? What about literal racism? I expected Barbie to provide an influential feminist take more aligned with the year 2023, but it fell short in my opinion.

In an article published in Refinery 29 by Jourdain Searles, Searles says, “By simply acknowledging the existence of patriarchy, does that make Barbie a feminist film? The internet seems to think so.”

While in some ways I can see why everyone thinks this. Barbie is a movie that comments on womanhood, articulately and thoughtfully, both tasteful and lighthearted. I agree that it does this well. In the theater, I too felt myself resonating with America Ferrera’s speech on how impossible it is to be a woman.

But even so, I still have to ask myself how can we continue to promote feminism that requires little or no introspection. What about the 30 years without representation, when there was no black Barbie? In my opinion, a movie about a doll that created a beauty standard that didn’t even consider black women in its inception can’t successfully comment on feminism without acknowledging this. Little black girls everywhere are the elephant in the room.

For a film that is so profoundly self-approving, so satisfied with itself, and so frequently self-aware, it's hard not to be disappointed with its erasure of black women’s struggles and issues. I recognize that a lot of people may not have noticed this, or deem it unnecessary for such a family-friendly movie to comment on everything wrong with the world. However, I was that little black girl who barely saw myself represented, and I know there are millions of others just like me who felt that gap growing up. Anyone who knows what this is like knows how harmful it is.

My take on the Barbie movie is that if it can address unrealistic beauty standards, capitalism's evils, and all the contrasted, constantly juxtaposing expectations women face everywhere, it can tackle racism.

This Barbie movie highlights past movements and changes. In the past, the feminist movement prioritized white women first and then everyone else. The struggles and sexism white women experience are valid but not the only struggles. It is not accurate to assume that white women are the default of feminist thought, nor should they be the central focus of all artistic commentary.

The barbie movie had a huge opportunity to showcase feminist intersectionality on a massive platform, and its creators chose not to take it.

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