By: Caroline MacLellan
Oct 11th, 2023
Directed by Greta Gerwig, the highly anticipated movie “Barbie” hit theaters on July 21st, 2023. The movie has been met with rave reviews from both critics and audiences. On Rotten Tomatoes, a popular film review site, “Barbie” received an 88% critic score, and an 83% audience score. However, things haven’t been all positive in Barbieland.
Before and after the movie’s release, criticism from conservatives has plagued the Internet. On social media like Twitter, now X, and Instagram, liberals and conservatives have been butting heads over the movie’s messages. Some right-wing politicians and pundits have even called “Barbie” out as left-wing, “woke” propaganda, claiming that the movie serves to further the liberal agenda.
The first controversy to slam “Barbie” was due to a map featured in the movie’s trailer. The cartoon map, meant to display Barbie’s journey from Barbieland to the real world, has ruffled the feathers of some conservatives. Several conservative politicians, including senator Ted Cruz, claimed that the map “depicts the “nine-dash line” which China uses to assert control over the South China Sea.” Conservatives have argued that including such a depiction supports Chinese propaganda.
The controversy surrounding the map has even led to Vietnam banning the movie in Vietnamese theaters, saying it violates the country’s sovereignty. While the map is a cartoon depiction of the world, and the dashed lines are simply journey lines, according to Warner Bros., the country proceeded with their decision. The Philippines, which also considered banning the movie for similar reasons, ultimately decided not to, due to the added context in the scene that features the map.
Some of the other backlash from conservatives calling “Barbie” woke is due to the casting of transgender actress Hari Nef, who plays Doctor Barbie. While Nef’s gender is in no way referenced in the movie, it seems that conservatives view her casting itself as a woke move, claiming it pushes the left’s LGBTQ+ agenda. This isn’t new though, as explored in another article from The Current, “Drag is NOT Dangerous,” conservatives have been actively trying to generate hatred of the LGBTQ+ community. The criticism of Nef is just another play from that book.
Further criticism of the movie also stems from its feminist themes and discussion of the patriarchy. “Barbie”’s plot follows Stereotypical Barbie, played by Margot Robbie, who finds herself in a predicament that requires her to go to the real world and find the girl who’s playing with her. With Ken, played by Ryan Gosling, in tow, Barbie soon discovers that the real world isn’t the paradise she expected. Put simply by a New York Times review, once in the real world, “Barbie is astonished to discover sexism, and Ken is delighted to discover patriarchy.”
In Barbieland, the Barbies run everything. In Barbie’s mind, because of the Barbies’ efforts, they had destroyed all semblance of inequality in the real world. Ken, on the other hand, finds out that his seemingly innocuous role in Barbie Land is actually the opposite in the real world, where men do all the jobs that the Barbies do in Barbieland. He takes this knowledge of the patriarchy back to Barbieland, where the Kens subsequently turn Barbieland into Kendom.
Of course, chaos ensues. In solving the issues in Barbieland, the movie explores themes of individuality, identity, perfectionism, masculinity and consumerism through a feminist lens. “Barbie” demonstrates what women and girls experience at the hands of patriarchy, such as the expectations set upon women from a young age to be perfect. Barbie herself exudes perfection, but it’s her journey throughout the movie that teaches her she doesn’t have to be.
“Barbie” also delves into the effects patriarchy has on men, too. The role of the Kens, but especially Gosling’s Ken, exemplify the ways patriarchy can twist people into something they’re not, and that men’s invention of patriarchy has ultimately hurt them more than helped them.
The Kens’ situation becomes an interesting critique of the real world, as it’s the opposite of the situation in reality. A Vox article explains this quite well, reading “In our world, women are taught that having everything is impossible without compromise and that, unlike Barbie and just like Ken, they should conform to the hobbies, careers, and whims of their heterosexual partners.”
It’s ultimately the way “Barbie” explores all these themes so blatantly that’s generated criticism from conservatives. A prominent example of this criticism comes from Ben Shapiro, a conservative commentator who put out almost three hours worth of content bashing “Barbie” after its release. In one video, he claims the movie is anti-men and woke, and is too mature for its supposed audience of 8-year-old girls and their mothers. The “Barbie” movie is rated PG-13 though, and is not meant for children under 13 to see alone.
Other conservatives, such as Matt Gaetz’s wife Ginger, slammed the movie for neglecting themes of faith and family, among other criticisms about the Kens’ masculinity. She subsequently called for a boycott of the movie. Much of the criticism parrots such claims — that “Barbie” is the most anti-male, woke film to ever exist. It’s anti-patriarchal, anti-family, and supports grooming.
While this was certainly the tune most conservatives were singing when “Barbie” was first released, some seem to be doing a 180, claiming that it’s actually a conservative movie that supports traditional family values and “what makes a woman a woman.”
Many conservative women in particular have decided to champion the movie instead. The end of “Barbie” features a montage of babies, girls and women. Barbie herself is also captured visiting her gynecologist at the end of the movie. Some have taken these scenes to mean that ultimately, Barbie’s only purpose in abandoning her dollhood to become human, was to embrace tradition and become a mother instead of a #GirlBoss.
Ultimately though, most conservatives seem to be sticking to their opinions that “Barbie” is a woke, feminist pile of flaming garbage that no one under any circumstances should see.
Everyone else seems to have a different opinion. The rave reviews and the $1 billion it has raked in in under a month are just some of the evidence for that. “Barbie” is a powerful but fun film that dives into the reality of what it means to be a modern woman (and a man) in our world, and it’s certainly a film worth seeing.
Caroline MacLellan is a senior studying Professional and Public Writing, with a minor in Japanese. In her free time, she loves watching Korean dramas, reading manga and creative writing.