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Is Barbie a feminist movie? Depends on whom you ask

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Is Barbie a feminist movie? Depends on whom you ask

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The highly anticipated Barbie movie was never making it to the big screen without a battle or two. Star and producer Margot Robbie acknowledged this in her initial meeting with Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz back in 2018, as she recounted in a new Time magazine cover story. “In that very first meeting, we impressed upon Ynon we are going to honour the legacy of your brand, but if we don’t acknowledge certain things – if we don’t say it, someone else is going to say it,” Robbie said. “So you might as well be a part of that conversation.”

Since then, the toy company has established its place in that dialogue, orchestrating a “Barbie boot camp” with director Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach, with whom Gerwig wrote the film, and voicing creative differences, Time reports. Richard Dickson, COO and president of Mattel, said that he took a flight mid-production to the film’s London set “to argue with Gerwig and Robbie over a particular scene, which he felt was off-brand,” according to the outlet. But once he saw the scene performed in person, Dickson reportedly reversed course. “When you look on the page, the nuance isn’t there, the delivery isn’t there,” Robbie explained.

The Barbie movie has hit bumps before, stopping and starting various iterations with Anne Hathaway and Amy Schumer. In a recent interview on Watch What Happens Live, Schumer confirmed to Andy Cohen that she departed her version of the film because it didn’t feel “feminist and cool”. Dickson opted not to comment on Schumer’s remark, but told Time: “It was a matter of finding the right talent that can appreciate the brand’s authenticity and bring that controversy to life in a way that, yes, pokes fun at us but ultimately is purposeful and has heart.”

In the same piece, Robbie Brenner, executive producer of Mattel Films, warned Mattel executives (who even get their own onscreen proxy CEO, played by Will Ferrell), “You’re just gonna white-knuckle it the whole time.” But Brenner told Time that Barbie is “not a feminist movie,” a belief reportedly expressed by other company execs. “Who said that?” Robbie asked the outlet when alerted to the sentiment before sighing. “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.” More importantly, the actor said, “we’re in on the joke. This isn’t a Barbie puff piece.”

Alas, making an existential, aimed-at-adults Barbie movie influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey was always going to be a tricky proposition. As Gerwig put it, “sometimes these movies can have a quality of hegemonic capitalism,” adding, “It’s like sneaking in humanity to something that everybody thinks is a hunk of plastic.”

Barbie’s perfectly arched feet strut into cinemas on 21 July.

This article was originally published on Vanity Fair.

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