Storytelling is a medium that is consumed in a variety of ways, whether it be film, television, books, ad campaigns, or even a post on social media. There are multiple formats to tell a story and the purpose is to share a message to audiences. The way audiences respond may shock or surprise the author and or creator of the message because it may not be what they expected. One of the examples of such is the summer hit Barbie.
Director and writer Greta Gerwig, crafted a story that compelled audiences in the masses leading the film to become the highest grossing live-action pic from a female filmmaker. This moment of success has demonstrated the valuability of not just women and minority filmmakers but also the desire for women-led projects from audiences. There was an overwhelming response from people for Barbie that was also due to the gigantic marketing campaign. This campaign included food partnerships, clothing lines, makeup collaborations, home decor, and so much more! The marketing of this film also included behind the scenes videos of the film production that showed viewers insight to the costuming, set design, and cinematography in the creation of Barbie. The team behind this film was strategic in how and when they presented the promotional videos as it led to consistent anticipation for audiences eager for the film’s release. It was impossible to escape the barbie-core marketing as it was becoming utilized by so many brands as a way to increase their own sales whether they had a direct relationship to the film or not. Consumers were eating up Barbie and this reaction from audiences prompted a specific reaction from the film’s distributor Warner Brothers Studios. The studio noted the interest from audiences and interpreted the success and support for the film as a sign that people wanted more films that could invoke a childhood nostalgia. However, it is much more complex than that, as the attraction for the film was largely contributed by Gerwig’s authentic storytelling of girlhood and the experience of women existing in a patriarchal society. This film revealed that inclusivity in cinematic storytelling matters and that cinema can garner a broader audience when the cast and crew of a film is of different backgrounds. Barbie also drew discussions of how empowerment through film is possible when you have authentic voices behind the narrative.
Despite the numerous articles and online discussions of Barbie’s personal meaning and representation of women in film, Warner responded to this success with the announcement of a toy universe, where they would give classic Mattel toys their own individual movies. This response led to confusion for many as they did not necessarily love the film just because it was about a childhood toy but because of Gerwig’s storytelling ability and the way that this film spoke so closely to the female experience. Women were a large part of the demographic of the film which is apparent in America Ferrera’s monologue towards the end of the film where she lists numerous and unrealistic standards society has for women. This story resonated with many women of all ages and to see the studio misinterpret the wants and needs of audiences is disheartening. Actor and comedian, Randall Park, even acknowledged this mistake from the studio stating, “Barbie is this massive blockbuster, and the idea is: Make more movies about toys! No — make more movies by and about women! It’s Greta Gerwig!” For an acclaimed actor to publicly acknowledge this misconception is a big statement for studios to listen better to what their audience is starving for and why they may want the specific content. Women specifically have been deprived from accurate and direct representation in video storytelling. Barbie is an example of a stride for women in how they can tell their own stories and how Female-driven video narratives can continue to be told when given the opportunity. The miscommunication of the audience’s appreciation for Barbie being interpreted for the desire of childhood nostalgia, which is still a great theme, continues to add to the problem that there are not enough films, shows, and media for women by women.
There is a need and desire for women and minority owned film projects and this can happen when studios show that they are supporting diverse voices in video formats like film and television. The goal is to continue to share and explore the perspective of women and underrepresented groups that have not had a voice onscreen in the past. In a world of post-Barbie where history has been established that women will go to the theater to watch and hear a story of their life, the question is now “how do we continue to make this happen?”
BY: JAELYN ROSE CHAVEZ