For months, a marketing campaign with impressive reach has been wooing the public with the promise of a night of rosy-hued fantasy and seeing Margot Robbie play alongside Ryan Gosling as a life-size Barbie. Toward disgust of someone of the targets of this campaign has been queer audiences, who have responded enthusiastically to the film’s corny commercials and innuendo-filled trailers.
Andrew Nunez, 30, attended a screening of the movie Barbie Blowout Party in New York City on Wednesday, ahead of its national premiere. He told NBC News that he had come to see the movie for a reason.
«First of all, I’m gay,» he said, «and this movie is going to be gay canon.»
«Barbie is like a transvestite interpretation of heterosexuality; it’s so over the top that it exemplifies the ways in which heterosexuality is constructed and represented.»
And Gay Times, a British LGBTQ news site, celebrated Friday, the day of the film’s official release, as “barbie dayand called the world-renowned doll a «queer cultural phenomenon.»
But despite the rumours, a fair number of LGBTQ actors, some coded supporting characters, and perhaps some wishful thinking, there’s nothing overtly weird about Greta Gerwig’s «Barbie» movie. Indeed, by the end, the film pushes a surprisingly traditional view of society, in which straight, conventionally attractive men and women (or Barbies and Kens) rule the world.
“For a film that spends so much time dissecting gender norms and highlighting the importance of diversity, I really wish ‘Barbie’ had openly acknowledged queer people,” Matthew Huff, associate entertainment editor for Parade magazine, told NBC News after seeing the film at an early press screening.
In hindsight, it’s easy to wonder if critics and audiences should have expected more from the film, which is a co-production between Mattel, the maker of the famous doll, and Warner Bros. After all, Mattel, which was very involved in the development of the script and the filming process, he has historically not publicly embraced his enthusiastic queer fan base. And, according to those who have given the matter some thought, Barbie’s weird appeal has always been more about the potential that the shape-shifting doll represents.
in a interview with fandangoActress Kate McKinnon, who is openly gay and plays the «weird Barbie» in the film, said Barbie is about «imagination.»
“It’s a way to express your innermost desires and the things you’re exploring about yourself and about the world,” he said.
Alex Avila, a digital creator who specializes in social theory and pop culturesaid Barbieland’s flaming heterosexuality, fully displayed in the trailers and promo clips, is part of the appeal to queer fans.
“Barbie is like a transvestite performance of heterosexuality; it’s so over the top that it exemplifies the ways that heterosexuality itself is constructed and represented,» Avila told NBC News before «Barbie» hits theaters. “I think queer people cling to that straight image because we can make fun of it. We can reclaim it and use it in ways that show that heterosexuality is built and set in motion by forces beyond us, and not universal.»
On the other hand, there are plenty of moments in “Barbie” movie promos that seem a lot less straight. Barbie driving alone in her pink convertible, proudly singing the Indigo Girls classic «Closer to Fine,» easily read as a moment of sapphic joy out of context. And this is right after Weird Barbie, played by McKinnon, offers Barbie a Birkenstock instead of her feminine high-heeled one. Many also marked the scene provoked in which Barbie, now in the real world, exchanges a longing look with America Ferrera’s character Gloria; however, the relationship between the two turns out to be a tribute to motherhood and the traditional nuclear family.
Just before the film’s release, Robbie nearly squashed rumors that some or all of the Barbies and Kens would be gay. telling British magazine LGBTQ Attitude: The dolls «don’t actually have sexual orientations.»
And, in the end, audiences are left with some fleeting and not particularly proud references to Barbie’s queer culture. There are brief appearances by Magic Ken Earring and Palm Beach Sugar Daddy Ken, both of whom Mattel has always denied were intentionally coded as gay. AND Alan by Michael Cerathe only prominent coded character to be based on a 1960s doll that was marketed as «Ken’s friend», he spends most of the film complaining about his life in Barbieland.
What the film does feature is #MeToo-era feminism, girlboss rhetoric, and a big dollop of Mattel pride, which can be heard in the endless promotion of Barbie’s catchphrase «You can be anything,» which inadvertently might just be the weirdest thing of all.
‘You can be anything’
Queer Barbie fans have long had a special relationship with the idea that «you can be anything,» in relation to the malleable doll. Adopted in 2015 as a revamp of the 1985 «Girls Can Do Anything» campaign, the tagline has come to define the brand over the years. And as a result, it’s not just the new movie that has leaned heavily on this idea.
Other Barbie products, like the video games that hit the scene in the mid-’80s, have also presented the opportunity for kids to imagine different ways of being. in a interview with Out magazineHari Nef, a transgender actor who plays a version of Doctor Barbie in the new film, specifically mentioned that the computer game Barbie’s Magic Hair Styler influenced her in this way.
“The idea that I could just change and transform Barbie and create someone with my fingertips, the magic of that, and I think also maybe the privacy of that, and something about Barbie and technology really interested me at the time,” she said. “I felt like through Barbie I could explore all kinds of people and things to do.”
And the Barbie dolls themselves are certainly based on this concept, with career-oriented versions like an astronaut, marine biologist, and presidential candidate, as well as lifestyle-oriented iterations like Malibu Barbie.. But while Mattel has made a profit pushing this narrative over the years, the company may never have fully digested what it means to create a doll that can be anything for children.
“There is the style of play that Barbie advertises on the box, but I would wager that most people don’t play exactly the way the box tells them to,” Avila said. «If you’re a gender non-conforming person or a queer person, you cut Barbie’s hair or change Ken and Barbie’s clothes, and it opens up this possibility for weirdness that the Barbie brand hasn’t necessarily planned for.»
He added: «Barbie is literally in your hands to change and reconfigure.»
This phenomenon has even inspired academic writings, such as by erica rand 1995 book, “Barbie Strange Accessories.” The project began when Rand, who teaches gender and sexuality studies at Bates College in Maine, saw an article in the lesbian porn magazine «On Our Backs» that involved Barbie in a compromising position. When word got out that Rand was thinking of incorporating the spread into his classroom instruction, he began receiving messages from people wanting to share their own childhood memories of the doll.
“I started getting contacted by a lot of people who wanted to tell me weird things they had done with Barbie as kids,” Rand said. “People talked to me about looking back and feeling like they understood their queer origins because of the way they had treated Barbie.”
When it comes to coded queer trailers and promo clips for the new «Barbie» movie, Rand pointed to a phenomenon known as «gay window advertising,» or the practice of advertisers gesturing to queer audiences in a way that would pass over those who would disapprove.
“I think about this with the trailer, not so much with Ken being portrayed as campy and queer, or even the overall campy vibe, but in terms of the lesbian inside joke of Barbie singing ‘Closer to Fine’ while driving her Barbie convertible,” Rand said. “All this queer fantasy can be generated in the space where few have seen the movie.”
He added: «Whatever Mattel is doing for the sake of marketing, they’re not marketing lesbian Barbie or queer Ken, directly.»
While some queer fans have lamented what they’ve described as bait-and-switch marketing, others aren’t concerned with the film’s paucity of overt queerness. Brooklyn resident Eric Dimitratos, 37, has already seen the film twice, though he admitted, «It wasn’t what he expected.»
«It’s just fun,» he said. «It’s corny, but in a good way.»