The Truth About the New ‘Barbie’ Movie – Is It ‘Woke’ or More Nuanced?

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This weekend’s box office set records with the simultaneous debuts of Barbie and Oppenheimer. The films brought in some $200 million domestically – with Barbie earning $155 million in the United States alone (the biggest premier of the year). Oppenheimer exceeded expectations by raking in $80.5 million in its opening weekend.

The films were dubbed “Barbenheimer” online for those looking to enjoy a double feature – even though they couldn’t be more different. Starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie and Ken, Barbie follows the iconic doll as she leaves ‘Barbie Land’ for the ‘real world.’ Oppenheimer, meanwhile, tells the story of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, played by Cillian Murphy, who invented the atomic bomb. 

The plot of Barbie, in particular, has been under the microscope as right- and left-leaning audiences debate its ‘wokeness.’ On Monday’s show, Megyn was joined by Emily Jashinsky, culture editor for The Federalist, and Eliana Johnson, co-host of Ink Stained Wretches, to discuss the Barbie controversy and the larger cultural context.

Barbie Gets Mixed Reviews

The Barbie marketing team worked overtime and spared no expense ahead of the highly anticipated release of the film, taking social media, the internet, and store shelves by storm. There were brand partnerships, Google takeovers, and even a real life Barbie Dream Home in Malibu in what became known as the ‘Barbie-core’ movement. 

Behind all the pink and glitter and nostalgia, however, controversy has been brewing. Early trailers and promotion of the film painted the picture of Barbie and Ken (in many iterations) living blissful lives in ‘Barbie Land’ until Robbie’s Barbie is forced to enter the real world. That will lead her to the “truth about the universe.” The film was marketed as offering something for everyone – whether you love or hate the iconic doll. 

But reviewers have already hinted that the plot is more complex than it first appears. “The early buzz about this movie is that they’ve tried to reinvent Barbie as some sort of feminist hero,” Megyn said, “as opposed to the quintessential image of what a woman should be but never will be with a teeny tiny waist, and the enormous boobs, and the forever legs, and basically just a sex or beauty object.” 

The film is being hyped by many on the left as a “takedown” of toxic masculinity and “a master’s thesis on feminism.” On the flip side, conservative commentators like Ben Shapiro slammed it for the same reason.

In a 43-minute YouTube video, Shapiro called Barbie “one of the worst movies I have ever seen.” At its core, “the actual argument the movie is making is that if women enjoy men, they have been brainwashed by the patriarchy,” he said. “The basic premise of the film, politically speaking, is that men and women are on two sides of the divide and they hate each other.”

Shapiro noted how the actual plot contrasts with what was shown in the previews and most likely lured mothers and their young children to go out and see the film. What they were treated to, he said, was a film that promotes the idea that “literally the only way you can have a happy world is if the women ignore the men and the men ignore the women.”

Is Barbie ‘Woke’?

Barbie was written by husband-wife team Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig. Gerwig also directed the film. Her past work includes Lady Bird (2017) and Little Women (2019).  Jashinsky said it’s not hard to paint Gerwig’s career as ‘woke,’ but she wondered if the so-called “woke/non-woke binary” is too simplistic in this circumstance.

While Jashinsky admitted the early reviews about Barbie being a “stunning take-down of toxic masculinity” are “a bad sign,” she is holding out hope. She pointed to the remarkable production design and aesthetic behind the film as promising elements – despite the interwoven themes of “patriarchy” throughout. “If we can at least concede sex differences, this movie is a masterpiece,” she said.

Megyn said she is reserving judgment until she sees Barbie for herself, but, so far, it sounds like it “dovetails” with the ‘woke’ themes of movies like Disney’s upcoming live action remake of Snow White. Last week, we learned the updated script includes a Latina actress in the title role and “magical creatures” in place of the iconic Seven Dwarves.

While Johnson she will be skipping Barbie in favor of Oppenheimer, she was willing to take a small win. “I will say…  if Barbie is not trans in the movie, that’s something,” she concluded. “The bar is so low.”

You can check out Megyn’s full conversation with Jashinsky and Johnson by tuning in to episode 593 on YouTube, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you like to listen. And don’t forget that you can catch The Megyn Kelly Show live on SiriusXM’s Triumph (channel 111) weekdays from 12pm to 2pm ET.