How Exactly Is This Empowering Anne Hathaway Barbie Movie Supposed to Work?

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Yesterday, news surfaced that Anne Hathaway was in talks to take over the lead role in Sony’s upcoming live-action movie about Barbie.

Hathaway would fill the void that Amy Schumer left when she departed the project back in March due to scheduling conflicts. And for those of you just tuning in and thinking, “since when is Barbie a movie,” the answer is, since now! There’s going to be a live-action Barbie movie supposedly meant to empower young girls.

The plot synopsis, via Deadline:

If a deal can be made, Hathaway would play a character who lives in Barbieland, where she gets kicked out basically because she’s not perfect enough, is a bit eccentric and doesn’t quite fit the mold. She then goes on an adventure in the real world, and by the time she returns to Barbieland to save it, she has gained the realization that perfection comes on the inside, not the outside, and that the key to happiness is belief in oneself, free of the obligation to adhere to some unattainable standard of perfection.

The film is expected to be PG and a broader family comedy along the lines of Splash, Enchanted and Big.


How can it do that when the hyperfeminine and unrealistically structured Barbie dolls are part of the same body image culture that can negatively impact girls’ self-esteem? Uh...

There’s a lot to unpack here. I get that Mattel’s really trying to prove that it’s committed to diversity and to telling a new story about Barbie. Last year, the company debuted three new Barbie sizes (tall, petite, and curvy) as well as variety of skin colors in an effort to meet the needs of parents concerned about representation and the impact of the traditional Barbie’s measurements on childrens’ body image. But a line of dolls and a fun new live action movie cannot exactly erase the damage that has already been done. Dolls with unrealistic bodies still have the potential to impact the relationship girls and women have with their own bodies.

No doubt the movie will reference the doll’s vapid reputation as a foil to Hathaway’s quirky character, and sure, plenty of parents and children will probably enjoy seeing their favorite doll being brought to life, along with a positive lesson about acceptance and stuff. Part of me is certain that a live-action Barbie is one last push against the consumer-stealing spindlier-legged creatures of Monster High, or an attempt to cash in on the success of the Lego Movie. But it’s still utterly bizarre that the villain in the Barbie movie is essentially the status quo, exactly what Barbie is. Just how empowering can something be if it’s standing up to the oppression it created? Not to mention if it has the ultimate goal of making the company that helped perpetuate that oppression turn a profit either way? It’s sort of like, say, a men’s body wash company changing its marketing to bravely stand up to an idea of masculinity they previously created and pushed.

So, yeah, let’s just leave the doll-in-the-real-world movies to the pros like Toy Story, and Tyra Banks’ masterpiece Life Size.

Isha is a staff reporter who covers pop culture, representation in media, and your new faves.

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