MOVIE REVIEW: “Barbie” shows a feminist utopia and is not really a movie for children
The describe the film “Barbie” as controversial is a vast understatement. It has been causing an international uproar even before it hit cinemas worldwide last July 2023 for two major reasons.
For example, Vietnam banned the movie because of a scene showing a world “map” that features what can be construed as a reproduction of China’s infamous nine-dash line. The government of China under President Xi Jinping is using that nine-dash line to bolster its claim on the entire South China Sea including all disputed territories. That claim, it is important to point out, has been rejected already by the Permanent Court of Arbitration back in 2016.
Some Filipino politicians urged the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) to follow suit but it did not. Meanwhile, Muslim-majority countries including Kuwait, Lebanon, and Algeria moved to ban “Barbie” because the movie supposedly “promotes homosexuality and other Western deviances.” Amidst all these, “Barbie” still went on to earn more than United States $1 billion, proving that even bad publicity can make a movie extremely profitable.
Against this backdrop, The Filipino Scribe lists below five highlights of this movie:
1) NOT REALLY FOR CHILDREN – In the Philippines, “Barbie” was rated as PG-13. This meant that those aged 13 and below can only be allowed to watch the movie if they are accompanied by a parent or a supervising adult. As has been pointed out by other critics before, the movie is not really for children but it is not because it has sexual content. Rather, it is because the movie dealt with themes that may be hard to understand for children like existentialism.
2) FEMINIST UTOPIA – The fictional Barbie World can be described as a matriarchal society since all positions of power there are occupied by women. This feminist utopia can be seen as a commentary against the political reality in the United States which is yet to have a woman president and where women’s reproductive health rights are perpetually under assault from conservatives.
3) PICK THE INCONVENIENT PATH – The presence of the map that purportedly reflects China’s infamous nine-dash line overshadowed how important that particular scene was in moving the narrative of the film forward. There, Stereotypical Barbie (played by Margot Robbie) was given a choice by Weird Barbie (played by Kate McKinnon) between going back to her “regular life” or for her “to know the universe.”
Stereotypical Barbie chose the first option which was represented by a high heel, though Weird Barbie eventually told her that she really has no choice (“You have to want to know, okay?”). And upon hearing those words, she began her adventure to the Real World alone – only to discover shortly after that Stereotypical Ken (played by Ryan Gosling) sneaked in her car.
This may sound cliche, but in many aspects of life, we often have to contend with circumstances where we don’t really have a choice. Switching careers or being in a relationship may feel uncertain at times but sometimes, we just have to take the plunge and figure things out along the way.
4) GETTING ALLIES TO GET THINGS DONE – While in the Real World, Ken discovered that men actually exert more power over women. Hence, he hurriedly returned to the Barbie World to begin turning the tables with the help of other Kens. They quickly succeeded in persuading Barbies to leave their previous roles in the society in favor of being submissive to their male counterparts.
When Stereotypical Barbie returned to the Barbie World, she was very disturbed to discover that the erstwhile female-led social order has been turned upside down. However, instead of just accepting this as the “new normal,” she teamed-up with the mother and daughter tandem of Gloria (played by America Ferrera) and Sasha (portrayed by Ariana Greenblatt) to make their move. One by one, they managed to communicate with the other Barbies to remind them of what they have been before their imposed servitude. This goes to show that connecting and persuading other people may be essential if we are to achieve our goals – that we cannot do everything all by ourselves at all times.
5) HAIL TO AMERICA FERRERA! – Gloria’s impromptu speech toward the end of the movie has been described as one of its highlights, and it is easy to see why. America Ferrera is probably best known among Filipinos for playing the titular character in “Ugly Betty.” She has been politically active in the United States in the past 15 years, speaking out on issues like women’s rights and immigration reform. Hence, it is easy to imagine why her character’s monologue in the film has earned rave reviews.
Who in the Philippines can possibly deliver these remarks? A similar message needs to be heard here in the – a country where voters rejected a highly-qualified woman in favor of an underachieving man in two successive presidential election cycles (2016 and 2022).
“It is literally impossible to be a woman. You are so beautiful, and so smart, and it kills me that you don’t think you’re good enough. Like, we have to always be extraordinary, but somehow we’re always doing it wrong.
You have to be thin, but not too thin. And you can never say you want to be thin. You have to say you want to be healthy, but also you have to be thin. You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You’re supposed to love being a mother, but don’t talk about your kids all the damn time. You have to be a career woman, but also always be looking out for other people. You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining.
You’re supposed to stay pretty for men, but not so pretty that you tempt them too much or that you threaten other women because you’re supposed to be a part of the sisterhood. But always stand out and always be grateful. But never forget that the system is rigged.
So find a way to acknowledge that but also always be grateful. You have to never get old, never be rude, never show off, never be selfish, never fall down, never fail, never show fear, never get out of line. It’s too hard! It’s too contradictory and nobody gives you a medal or says thank you! And it turns out in fact that not only are you doing everything wrong, but also everything is your fault.
I’m just so tired of watching myself and every single other woman tie herself into knots so that people will like us. And if all of that is also true for a doll just representing women, then I don’t even know.”
BONUS: The backlash against the display of the “world map” with the so-called nine-dash line was overboard. But why was it there in the first place? It could be a marketing ploy as a way to target Chinese audiences.