On Thursday, Oct. 26, sociology professors Jeffrey Montez De Oca and Christy Lofting hosted a screening of the “Barbie” movie, followed by a panel discussion critiquing the film as a cultural phenomenon and its role in politics and social issues.
While the commentary within “Barbie” is widely seen as a step in the right direction for social progress and inclusivity, the UCCS sociology department had a few contentions at the panel discussion.
Heather Albanesi, head of the WEST department; Edwardo Portillos, head of the sociology department; sociology professor Michèle Companion and assistant sociology professor Haruki Eda led the critiques of “Barbie” each focusing on the different social and political impacts within the film.
Albanesi discussed the film’s focus on western feminism, which she asserted still closely coincides with the vision of a patriarchy for both masculine and feminine standards. She questioned whether gateway feminist discourses are more helpful or detrimental to the feminist movements, as well as the importance of analyzing patriarchal and feminist concepts beyond face-value.
Portillos furthered Albanesi’s comments, critiquing the movie’s erasure of race, class and sexuality, and the harmful rhetoric “Barbie” poses as a reductionist film under the guise of social progression. He noted the film’s centering of a Latina mother and child as main characters while disregarding their experiences and identities as Latinas in America as an example of this erasure.
Portillos also critiqued the utopian imagery of the Barbie world, saying, “We see equality and we see people treated the same. It promotes ideas about colorblindness and we’re living in a post-racial society, where race doesn’t matter anymore … It is about protecting equality and not really having equality in our society.”
Companion commented on the film enabling commodity fetishism, which she described as capital markets creating a demand and a sense of need for goods and services that are unnecessary to our everyday lives.
“There’s a whole corporate identity around creating demand for things we don’t need,” she said.
Companion proceeded to correlate this demand with impacts on fast fashion and plastic production, especially following the high demand for Mattel products and anything correlated to “Barbie.” Her discussion points out how change toward social progression needs to include an eco-friendlier world that isn’t driven by capital consumption.
Eda examined the film’s impact on the geopolitics of marketing. The film’s proximity to the writer’s strike and Mattel’s brand as a successful business flourishing within the capital system all added to the movie’s controversial stance on progress.
“In this very specific space in time, there’s all these [things] that are happening that begin to complicate this movie,” he said. “If you start picking apart different dimensions of this film, you see little contradictions here and there.”
Eda’s emphasis on geopolitics allows for the audience to understand complexities around the film more clearly without losing sight of the corporate power behind the progressively labelled film.
The speakers opened the floor for a discussion after their panel, allowing students to share their own critiques of the movie. Both the panel speakers and students offered new and critical ways of viewing “Barbie.”
While this panel focused on social issues that “Barbie” failed to emphasize, the panel praised what the film got right. Montez de Oca noted how the movie unveiled male privilege for some viewers, pointing out that “a lot of young men were saying ‘oh my god, I never realized how much this society advantages me just because I’m a guy.’”
Albanesi also commented on the movie’s attention around feminist identities, showing how the narrative around feminism in society has shifted to embrace these ideologies rather than reject them.
“[There has been] a pushing back on [antifeminist narratives] and having young people claim that identity and have that be okay and start to talk about patriarchy in a different way than I have seen in the last ten years,” Albanesi said.
Pictured: Jeff Montez de Oca, Haruki Eda, Edwardo Portillos, Heather Albanesi and Michèle Companion all come prepared for discussion in their renditions of Barbie attire to critically analyze the film. Photo by Megan M.