Three months following the conclusion of the Writers Guild of America strike, screenwriters have led a protest against a recent release of Barbie dolls.
On Wednesday, Mattel revealed their latest collection, focused on showcasing women in the film industry. The range features a “studio executive Barbie,” a “film star Barbie,” a “director Barbie,” and a “cinematographer Barbie,” but does not include any representation for those who write scripts.
Taffy Brodesser-Akner, the writer of Fleishman Is in Trouble and its film version, asked on X, “Where can we find Screenwriter Barbie?” She wonders if Mattel is unfamiliar with creating sweatpants or putting avocado toast on a t-shirt without any additional design.
“I believe that creating a Barbie doll representing Quarterly/WGA Dues would be popular among a specific group,” she mentioned. She then addressed a tweet criticizing the focus on certain crew roles by stating, “Apparently, Key Grip Barbie felt uncomfortable with the behavior of Lighting Department Head Barbie and filed a complaint with Line Producer Barbie. First AD Barbie was informed and dismissed it as harmless joking.”
David Simon, the creator of The Wire, expressed on X that there is no representation of various roles in the entertainment industry through Barbie dolls. He mentions the absence of writer, grip, Teamster, and key set PA Barbies, highlighting the difficulty of managing a movie set with a diva-like Movie Star Barbie. Simon believes that this lack of diversity in Barbies reflects a lack of understanding on the part of Mattel.
Emma Forrest, the author and filmmaker behind Untogether, stated to The Guardian that Barbie is more than just a clever, humorous, and unique screenplay. It also defies the challenges of the studio system (placing it among triumphantly successful films like Broadcast News, Addams Family Values, Tootsie, and Out of Sight), making it even more disappointing that the screenwriter is not being acknowledged.
The monologue by America Ferrera will now be included in drama school auditions indefinitely – it’s strange that they fail to recognize the quality of the writing and ideas that made the movie successful.
Carol Morley, the creative mind behind movies like The Falling, Dreams of a Life, and Typist Artist Pirate King, proposed that Mattel add more diversity to their line of toys by including sets that represent various roles in the film industry. This could include jobs like editing, sound mixing, carpentry, casting, and a comprehensive list of all the positions involved in creating a film. Morley suggested that the list should include roles that have traditionally been seen as male-dominated, but are in fact open for women to pursue, such as directing, accounting, foley artistry, and visual effects.
“Imagine the possibilities if everyone who played with a Barbie had the ability to transform her into their desired dream role! They could style her however they pleased and even create accessories out of cereal boxes. It would be like having your own film school.”
There could potentially be a short internet video showcasing the various roles involved in the film industry. And let’s not overlook the importance of projectionists, ushers, publicists, and film critics/writers even after a film’s release.
Anna Smith, a film critic, had a more optimistic view of the range. She stated, “I believe the range as a whole demonstrates progress.” She also added, “It’s amazing for children to have a toy representing a female director to play with!”
Smith is the host of the podcast “Girls On Film” and has heard from numerous guests that they were discouraged from pursuing careers in cinema due to a lack of representation. Many of them did not have role models or examples of women in the industry, other than actresses.
It would be great to have a diverse representation in the industry, featuring many different roles such as grips, screenwriters, and production designers, alongside multiple Barbies. However, I believe the current range is a positive step forward.
The group of four newly released dolls is a part of Mattel’s yearly “career of the year” campaign, highlighting a specific field or occupation.
Jian Yang, a Barbie collector and expert, expressed doubt about the negative feedback regarding the toys. He believes that the criticism is coming from a mature perspective. If Mattel and its designers were given the task of creating four dolls to represent the film industry for young girls, they would likely choose recognizable and exaggerated characters, as that is how children may perceive people on a movie set.
If this were a deluxe gift set, such as a 25-piece collection of special edition movies, then it would include representatives from all areas of production, from the sound department to the writers and interns. However, that is not the case. It seems that the decision was made to provide children with a glimpse into the industry, but it is not a comprehensive representation.
“Mattel has pushed the boundaries of representing real life through dolls, but it’s safe to say that the list will never be exhaustive. Instead of nitpicking, let’s appreciate their efforts.”
The launch of the latest dolls follows the triumph of Greta Gerwig’s popular movie, Barbie. Gerwig co-wrote the film with Noah Baumbach and it was produced by its lead actress, Margot Robbie.
The movie, which won two Golden Globe awards last Sunday, was the top-earning film of 2023 and the first female-directed movie to surpass $1 billion in box office sales.
Several movies directed and written by women are generating buzz in this year’s award discussions, including Saltburn by Emerald Fennell, Past Lives by Celine Song, and Priscilla by Sofia Coppola. Concert films starring Taylor Swift and Beyoncé have also been successful at the box office in recent months.
Recent research released last week discovered that progress in increasing female presence behind the camera has been slow, despite some notable achievements.
The most recent report from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at USC, named “Inclusion in the Director’s Chair,” referred to the entertainment industry’s promises to support inclusion as “superficial actions” and not genuine efforts to drive change.
In the meantime, research conducted by the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University discovered that women only made up 16% of directors and 17% of writers for the 250 highest-earning films in 2023, a decrease from 18% in 2022.
According to their calculations, the combined number of women working on these films has decreased by two percentage points from 24% in 2022 and has only risen by five percentage points since 1998.
However, in the case of independent productions, the data showed a more positive trend: 42% of the writers for indie films were women, an increase from 40% in the previous year and 35% in 2021-22.
In the United Kingdom, although the number of female film writers is lower overall, their representation has experienced a faster increase compared to US studio productions. In 2018, 60 British women had their films released, while in 2009 there were only 23.