Like (almost) everyone else, I recently went to see the Barbie movie. Like (almost) everyone else, I thought I would write a blog about it.
Perhaps your teenage daughter is begging you to allow her to watch it, and you don’t know whether it’s appropriate. Maybe you’ve seen it and aren’t sure what to make of it as a Christian. Or, you may have no plans to ever spend two hours in ‘Barbieland’ but still want to know what all the fuss is about. Whatever your relation to Barbie, here are a few thoughts:
- As Christians, it is good to be curious about cultural phenomena
‘Barbie’ has broken box-office records, earning approximately $250 million AUD so far. For the first time in a long time, people are going to the movies, rather than opting for the newest Netflix release. Barbie has been met with massive enthusiasm and as Christians, we should be curious about that. We should care about what makes our communities tick. We should want to understand why people are so interested in this film. Understanding our neighbour is an important step toward loving our neighbour and is certainly a prerequisite for effectively engaging them in spiritual conversations.
- Barbie isn’t a kid’s movie
The target demographic of the Barbie movie is young adults. There are plenty of children watching this film. In fact, Mattel has capitalised on this by releasing a new line of Barbie toys. However, while the shiny pink aesthetic of the film may appeal to a younger audience, the themes of the film ‑ existential anxiety, death, sexuality, gendered oppression ‑ are clearly aimed toward viewers aged 16-30.
- The message is more nuanced than you might expect
The Barbie movie re-thinks ‘Barbie-land’ through a post-feminist lens. I say ‘post-feminist’ because the message of this film is more complex than a simple reversal of patriarchal values. If you’re familiar with the history of feminism, I suppose you could say the film has been informed by third-wave or fourth-wave feminism. I have seen some Christians call this film ‘woke’. They use this term in a derogatory sense, fearing that the film is pushing an anti-Christian ‘critical theory’ message. I disagree. While the film certainly has a ‘lesson’ it wants to teach, I think the lesson is ‘taught’ with a refreshing degree of humility and uncertainty. Barbie and Ken learn that while a patriarchy is wrong, so, too, is a matriarchy. At the end of the film, Barbie is left with a new appreciation that being human and relating to other humans is complex and difficult. This said, there are a few frustratingly didactic monologues which seemed like lazy script writing to me. If you can get past that, I think you’ll enjoy the film as an interesting insight into our cultures’ anxieties and desires.
The Barbie movie is a product of our cultural moment. It’s clever (mostly). It’s entertaining (try not laughing at Ryan Gosling as Ken). And, it could be a great conversation starter.