“Barbie” and “feminist” aren’t often found in the same sentence, unless said sentence is being used to decry the unhealthy and unrealistic body image associated with the popular brand of doll.
So, in an era where female representation in film is under increasing scrutiny, the long-gestating Barbie movie has always sounded a peculiar product. It’s had a string of names attach and then depart since it was first announced in 2014, with Amy Schumer and Anne Hathaway both due to star at various points in its journey.
An array of writers has also worked on the script, from Juno’s Diablo Cody to Jenny Bicks (The Greatest Showman) in what was once touted as Barbie’s journey to the real world after her “unique nature” jarred with her fellow dolls.
But the latest twist in its journey is perhaps the most intriguing. Margot Robbie was first thought to be circling the film in late 2018 and has since signed on to star and produce under her production banner LuckyChap. She’s now been joined by Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach as the film’s new writers.
The pair have previously teamed up on Frances Ha, Mistress America and Greenberg, and Gerwig is, of course, the writer and director behind 2018 critical darling Lady Bird. Since then, she’s been hard at work on the much-hyped Emma Watson and Saoirse Ronan-starring Little Women which releases in January 2020.
Greta Gerwig, Margot Robbie and Ladybird star Saoirse Ronan at the 2018 Critics’ Choice Awards, Getty
Between them, she and Robbie are responsible for some of the most successful female-led films of the last two years. The Australian actress broke through in The Wolf of Wall Street but has played a savvy hand since, setting up her LuckyChap production company with husband Tom Ackerley and producing (and starring in) I, Tonya. She’s gone on to negotiate a first-look deal with Warner Bros, starting with Birds of Prey – a DC spin-off for her Suicide Squad character Harley Quinn.
Suffice to say, Robbie, Gerwig and Baumbach bring some serious pedigree to the Barbie story – and the sway to pull in a young, female audience who were once unlikely to give the film much of a look in (this writer included).
What they do with the Barbie property is another question. The movie is being made in conjunction with Mattel so the toy giant will have creative control over the script – and an eye on the shelves of product they could potentially shift upon its release.
In 2016, the company overhauled their Barbie model – in the face of falling sales, they rebranded with tall, petite and curvy variants on the doll’s original buoyancy aid breasts and minuscule waist proportions. They also introduced a range of skin tones, with 33 new dolls in total.
It’s the start of a long process and it would take the most skilled of marketeers to repackage Barbie as a “woke” feminist. It’s also of little surprise that Robbie – a movie star with movie star good looks – will lead this cinematic retelling. But I find it hard to believe she and Gerwig would sign on to a project without a bit of bite.
So, perhaps (and it’s still a “perhaps”) they represent the latest step in the brand’s journey to represent real women – tall, short, thin, curvy, the lot – in the households of millions of young girls worldwide.