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Come on Barbie, Let's Go Party
(I have song lyrics in my head almost constantly, thanks ADHD!)
It’s true to say that Barbie, and the Barbie Movie, evokes some pretty strong reactions in people. Some of those reactions have centred around the idea that the movie is ‘anti-men’. But I think that’s a view that misses the point.
The Barbie Movie is not anti-men, it’s anti-patriarchy. It is a satirical, fictional take on the patriarchy: how would it feel if the world was run in a different way? How would it feel if it was run by women? It tries to demonstrate that Patriarchy is bad for everyone, both men and women. Women should not be defined by their relationship to men, any more than men should be defined by their relationship to a woman (like Ken is in relation to Barbie). I liken it to the book Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman published in 2001 in which the racial norms of the world are switched, to make the point that it’s bad for everyone. To try and encourage white people to understand the ramifications of racism, and hopefully then to make a change to their behaviour. Barbie is doing the same.
What Margot and Greta are Saying
I’ve now heard a number of Greta Gerwig interviews, she wrote the film with her partner during the pandemic. Once she and partner Noah had it written, she knew she wanted to direct this film. Greta and Margot Robbie, whose company bought the rights to make the movie and produced it, talk about the movie being a lot of different things. My favourite line from the interviews was ‘get comfortable with being uncomfortable’ actually used in the context of the company behind Barbie and her complex history (the build and sexualisation of Barbie plus the different amazing roles that Barbie has played) but might also serve as a motto for this film.
One aspect of this movie that I really enjoyed was the way that Barbie was always steering away from romantic partnership being ‘the answer’. Barbie gently tells Ken that he needs to find his own way, not to rely on her – this is the self-awakening that many women are currently going through. Whether they are part of the Christian faith or not, the message so many of us have received from a young age is that we are only complete with a male companion. It’s there in the interpretation of Eve as Adam’s ‘helper’, it’s there in the teachings about women’s role in church, it’s there in the way we treat single women in the church. In this satirical take, we hear how empty it is to assume that one person can only find their worth or reason for being in romantic connection to another human being. Even as Christians are taught to find our value in God, it is worth pointing out that one of Jesus’s main teachings about living a life that is ‘righteous’ involves loving yourself as you love your neighbour. Not to be mistaken as a call to be selfish but definitely a call to love ourselves, outside of a romantic or dependent relationship. If you felt uncomfortable it’s an opportunity to ask yourself why, could it be because we’re so engrained in the Patriarchal way of thinking?
Barbie is very pro-humanity, despite its discovery that all is not entirely good in ‘the real world’, I enjoyed the way that Ruth, maker of Barbie, tells Barbie that she doesn’t need permission to become human, she just needs to feel it. It doesn’t try to shy away from the complexity of human emotions either. Barbie learns that to be human is to hold complex thoughts and feelings, not only feeling ‘happy’, something I think that we need to acknowledge more of in church. As human beings, created in the image of God, we are complex and complicated with emotions that seem contradictory and yet need not be. Barbie even has to grapple with the reality that even she is not liked by all women, imagine!
I enjoyed America Ferrera’s speech about the complexities of being a woman, which of us in the sisterhood hasn’t felt as exasperated as that at some point in our lives?
Box Office Smash
And, no matter what else we might think, it is astounding that a film written and directed by a woman, aimed at women and young girls and with low numbers of men attending, has smashed through most Box Office records. The Barbie Movie has seen people returning to cinema in their droves, post pandemic. It is a thoughtful and playful narrative, which, along with Oppenheimer, sets it above the more usual summer box office offering of action and adventure. It is set to become the biggest movie of this year, and has just overtaken Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows part 2 to become Warner Brothers’ most successful movie of all time.
Due to be released on streaming services on 5th September, this is a triumph of a film which I hope everyone will see.
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I’m trying a new thing with this, so bear with me while I get going!