Can Barbie Make It as a Movie Director?

In her new career, the doll tries to break out in an industry with a notoriously low employment rate for women.
Film Director Barbie; (inset) film director Ava DuVernay. (Photo: Facebook)
Jan 21, 2015· 2 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Every year since Barbie was introduced as a fashion model in 1959, she's taken on a new and increasingly progressive career, with an immaculately designed wardrobe to match. She's conquered politics, the military, and even outer space, but more recently, Barbie faced her toughest professional challenge yet: entering tech and media industries that are overwhelmingly male-dominated.

Her new career path this year couldn't be more optimistic. In 2015, Barbie will become a film director, and she's got the accessories to prove it: a viewfinder, a utility belt, a script (in a pink spiral-bound notebook), sunglasses (for outdoor filming), flats for working on set, and heeled boots for hitting the town at movie premieres. She's even got an articulated ankle so she can easily wear both types, which Mattel says helps her "tell any kind of story."

But Barbie's not going to make it in Hollywood on fancy footwear alone. A recent study shows that women accounted for only 7 percent of directors in the top 250 domestic-grossing films of 2014. Barbie would only fare slightly better in the position of producer (23 percent), followed by executive producer (19 percent), editor (18 percent), or writer (11 percent).

If Barbie wants to be a cinematographer next year, her chances of succeeding in the industry are even worse. Just 5 percent of cinematographers who worked on feature films in 2014 were women.

L.A. Weekly film critic Amy Nicholson noticed the Barbie on Mattel's website and tipped us off with this skeptical Tweet:

Little is known about the top-secret movie Barbie is directing—her pink composition book simply reads "Script"—but surely this gig can't be much worse than Barbie's prior career fumble. Last year she decided to be a computer programmer; the doll and its accompanying book were pulled by Mattel after outrage over the book's blatant sexism.

The offending item, I Can Be a Computer Engineer, contained scenes in which Barbie revealed she only designed computer games and needed the help of boys to program them. Blogger and screenwriter Pamela Ribon created the website Feminist Hacker Barbie to rewrite the book, with Barbie playing the role of computer hacker.

Director Barbie, which is available as a black or a white doll, enters the market on the heels of last week's controversial Oscar nominations, in which neither Ava DuVernay nor Angelina Jolie received nods for directing feature films, and no actors of color were nominated in any category. Kathryn Bigelow, whose 2009 movie The Hurt Locker was awarded best picture, is still the only woman to receive an Oscar for directing.

Bigelow has said that her filmmaking is not about breaking out of gender roles. In a 2009 New York Times profile, film critic Manohla Dargis argued that Bigelow's gender is the least remarkable thing about her work. "Sometimes, more simply, she's called a great female director," Dargis wrote. "She is, simply, a great filmmaker." While that may be true, DuVernay is conversely seeking to reclaim the term for what it is.

"There's some black filmmakers that don't want to be called black filmmakers; they just want to be called a filmmaker—and some women who want to be called a filmmaker and not a woman filmmaker," DuVernay said recently on the radio show The Business. "I'm a black filmmaker. That's my identity. That's the gaze through which I make my work. It doesn't mean that only black women can watch my work."

Maybe next year Barbie will trade in her high-heeled boots and acquire an even cooler accessory: a gold statuette.