As the famous or infamous blond doll invades movie theaters, a decades old documentary hits streaming services to refresh attitudes about the USA’s longstanding tradition as a Barbie Nation. Released in 1998 without all the hype surrounding legitimate talent Greta Gerwig directing Margot Robbie in a fictional work, the documentary offers an unauthorized tour of the doll, her history, and the range of fans she engenders. Writer-director Susan Stern benefits hugely from access to the doll’s creator, Ruth Handler, who provides thought-provoking insights into the toy’s genesis plus reminders of a past many forget. Handler bucked her era’s trends when dolls never looked older than a kid’s playmate and more frequently stood in as babies to cuddle. Noting her own daughter’s fascination with adult looking paper dolls that came with flat cardboard cutout clothes, Handler mixed that appeal with education—or so she claims. Girls developing adult body parts needed warning and adjustment to the ensuing change so voila! Barbie filled the gap. Perhaps. Filmmaker Stern refrains from adding her own thoughts but provides a fascinating range of other reactions to Barbie’s purpose and abilities. As anyone who ever visited the Barbie Death Camp and Wine Bistro at Burning Man knows, the doll lends herself to subversive art and behavior, along with the sparkles and pink fluff of little girl play.Mixing the bright, neon colors of Barbie’s world with cheery Beach Boy style music and an overall whimsical sensibility, Barbie Nation proves both fun and astute.
top of page
bottom of page