US: Has Mattel's New Barbie Collection Missed The Point, Again?

Three months after the Writers Guild of America strike, Mattel's Women in Film Barbie collection sparked controversy. While featuring a studio executive, film star, director, and cinematographer Barbie the set omits representation for screenwriters. 

Ishika Thanvi
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mattel barbie

Image Credits: Corporate Mattel

Three months post the Writers Guild of America strike, Mattel's latest "women in film" Barbie collection sparked controversy. While featuring a "studio executive Barbie," a "film star Barbie," a "director Barbie," and a "cinematographer Barbie," the set notably omits representation for screenwriters. Critics, including author Taffy Brodesser-Akner, question the absence of a "Screenwriter Barbie," highlighting the oversight in recognizing this integral aspect of the filmmaking process.


The absence of key roles like screenwriters in Mattel's new Barbie line drew sharp criticism. David Simon, creator of The Wire, expressed disappointment, emphasizing the oversight's failure to acknowledge the collaborative nature of filmmaking. Others, including novelist Emma Forrest and director Carol Morley, called for an expanded range to include diverse film industry roles, fostering a more inclusive narrative for children.

Mixed Reactions: From Critics to Barbie Enthusiasts

While some critics argue that Mattel's Barbie range represents progress, film critic Anna Smith acknowledges the importance of the collection in showcasing female directors. However, she also notes the need for broader representation, encompassing various industry roles beyond stereotypical portrayals. Barbie collector Jian Yang defends Mattel's choices, suggesting that the dolls cater to children's perceptions and encouraging applause for the effort rather than criticism.

Barbie and the Success of Female-Led Films

The release of these dolls follows the success of Greta Gerwig's film "Barbie," co-written with Noah Baumbach and produced by Margot Robbie. The movie, a blockbuster in 2023, made history as the first female-directed film to gross over $1 billion. Other films by female writer-directors, such as Emerald Fennell's "Saltburn," Celine Song's "Past Lives," and Sofia Coppola's "Priscilla," contribute to the ongoing conversation around gender representation in the film industry.

Industry Realities: Slow Progress Despite Success Stories

Recent studies reveal a sluggish increase in female representation behind the camera, despite the success of films like "Barbie." The USC's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative criticizes the entertainment industry's performative acts in promoting inclusion. Another study by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University underscores the persistent gender gap, emphasizing the need for genuine efforts to foster change in the male-dominated film industry. While independent productions show more promising statistics, there is still work to be done to achieve gender equality in mainstream cinema.

In conclusion, Mattel's attempt to celebrate women in film with its Barbie collection has ignited a debate about the industry's representation, signalling a need for more comprehensive and inclusive narratives in children's toys.

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