Mattel’s Executives Don’t Want You to Think Barbie Is Feminist, But Everyone Else Sure Does

Mattel’s Executives Don’t Want You to Think Barbie Is Feminist, But Everyone Else Sure Does

“If you love Barbie, this movie is for you,” the main trailer for Barbie tells us in glorious neon-pink font. “If you hate Barbie, this movie is for you,” it slyly adds. We are primed for Greta Gerwig’s surreal smash of the summer to give us a loving, but knowing look at all the iconic doll represents — but it seems like the execs behind her aren’t so keen.

In a truly fascinating cover story for Time magazine this week — which covers everything from just how star Margot Robbie pulled off that incredible shot of Barbie’s perfectly arched feet exiting her high heels (eight takes and a bar to hold, apparently) to how Gerwig snuck in a visual reference to Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam (“It’s on the same trajectory and angle as the Sistine Chapel,” Gerwig told Time, adding “nobody is going to notice that so I have to say it”) — the cast and crew behind Barbie discussed the film’s feminist leanings, and its celebration of Barbie while also understanding critique of the legendary doll’s place in the world of women’s media and merchandising.

And yet, despite the evidence of our eyes and ears — and the insistence of Gerwig and her cast — Mattel is seemingly unconvinced to say that Barbie is anything more than a fun romp, especially when it comes to its feminist politics. Time reporter Eliana Dockterman notes in the piece that Robbie Brenner, executive producer of Mattel Films and one of the architects behind the company’s push to bring Barbie to the silver screen, explicitly noted that Barbie is not a feminist film, a belief expressed by other unidentified Mattel executives spoken to during the story’s interview process.

“Who said that?” Robbie told Time when informed of the remarks. “It’s not that it is or it isn’t. It’s a movie. It’s a movie that’s got so much in it… we’re in on the joke. This isn’t a Barbie puff piece.”

It’s an intriguing remark given, well, as we said, the evidence of our eyes and ears. Especially so when we’ve seen glimpses of the comical role Mattel itself has in the film, where Will Ferrell’s faux-CEO yells about recapturing Barbie while legions of suit-clad men chase Robbie’s living doll through the desaturated halls of the toymaker. At this point in the cycle ahead of Barbie’s release — as seemingly the whole world is saturated in her preferred shades of pink, from Malibu Dreamhouses to cars, toys, shirts, makeup collabs, and everything in between — why try to distance yourself from what the movie’s clearly yearning to do for Barbie and her place in our popular culture? And what Mattel itself has done in recent years, revitalizing its Barbie doll range with a diverse array of hair, skin, and body types?

“If [Mattel] hadn’t made that change to have a multiplicity of Barbies, I don’t think I would have wanted to attempt to make a Barbie film,” Robbie also told Time, acknowledging the company’s own changing view of Barbie as a women’s icon. “I don’t think you should say, ‘This is the one version of what Barbie is, and that’s what women should aspire to be and look like and act like.’”

With Barbie less than a month away, this isn’t a conversation Mattel’s going to be able to put back in a box.