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A lot of people are very excited about Margot Robbie being cast to play Barbie in the new live-action film about the iconic toy of yesteryear values.
Why shouldn’t they be? Robbie is fast becoming one of the most recognisable, accomplished and talented young actors making waves in Hollywood in the last decade.
The I, Tonya star is also co-producing this – the latest in a long string of live-action offerings – under her LuckyChap Entertainment banner, and there are high hopes the as-yet unnamed Barbie film has all the makings of a box office hit.
It’s a shrewd move from Margot Robbie, who has now proved her salt as a thespian countless times.
She bought welcome depth to The Wolf of Wall Street and most recently demonstrated her chameleonic colours as Queen Elizabeth I in the not-so historically accurate Mary Queen of Scots.
The fantastically plastic $3 billion Barbie global powerhouse we all know and critique for its narrow view of womanhood should offer plenty of franchise options further down the road if this first film is a success.
Amy Schumer had been previously attached to the project over a decade ago in 2007. Anne Hathaway was also reportedly involved at one point when the script had an adult comedy slant.
Their departures were said to be due to scheduling conflicts.
But it looks like the new script, the product of a new partnership between Warner Bros. Pictures and Mattel, is going to attempt to be a lot more wholesome.
In a press release the 28-year-old Australian said:
I’m so honoured to take on this role and produce a film that I believe will have a tremendously positive impact on children and audiences worldwide.
Playing with Barbie promotes confidence, curiosity and communication throughout a child’s journey to self-discovery.
Over the brand’s almost 60 years, Barbie has empowered kids to imagine themselves in aspirational roles from a princess to president.
Indeed, Barbie has an impressive CV far more noteworthy than her scientifically improbably waist-to-bust ratio and has taken on more than 150 roles throughout her half century or production – including, notably, a presidential candidate rather than president.
Toby Emmerich – the man in charge of what young girls want to watch and chairman of Warner Bros Pictures Group – hopes Robbie will make Barbie ‘fresh’.
He said she ‘is the ideal producer and actress to bring Barbie to life on screen in a fresh and relevant way’ for today’s audiences.
Indeed, Robbie’s ability to portray female characters which represent so much more under the surface facade of idealised beauty – and even poke fun at their objectively pleasing aesthetic qualities – is a rare quality in modern cinema.
Like Tyra Banks, who played the Eve doll come to life in Life Size, Margot Robbie has a certain goofiness which endears her to certain audiences – as Barbie has done for young girls all these years.
But – and there is a big but amid the congratulatory tweets illustrated by Margot coincidentally dressed all in pink which just write themselves, don’t they? – unlike Tyra Banks, Margot Robbie is sadly part of the problem the folks over at Mattel are presumably hoping to band-aid over with this live-action film.
margot robbie as barbie? perfect casting pic.twitter.com/ATdboFlmgC
— best of margot (@badpostmargots) January 8, 2019
margot robbie is the PERFECT choice to play barbie omg pic.twitter.com/UKsInYcGWp
— thor's bitch (@marvelouscody) January 8, 2019
Mattel – and Barbie herself – have justly faced a lot of criticism for perpetrating a very narrow ideal of what it means to be a woman.
The criticism became even more inflamed when everyone cottoned onto the idea that toys can shape the way the next generation of children see the world.
Mattel constructed a soft and plush world of superficiality and ‘stuff’ for Barbie and, by association, all women; a bad fifties parody in which the real world is reserved for the Ken dolls – in other words, men.
Mattel have done a lot in recent years to combat their previous mistakes and you’d hope this latest foray into film would mark a real remoulding of the plastic doll which has caused so much aggro among those who – rightly – would like to see toy manufacturers take their social obligation to progress more seriously.
They famously brought in ‘Curvy Barbie’ in a misguided attempt to combat a body dysmorphic disorder named after Barbie herself, the so-called Barbie Syndrome. The collective sigh could be heard around the world.
Mattel also made some efforts to avoid white-washing the world of Barbie completely with more dolls from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities with non-caucasian body types, facial features and hair.
In further efforts to halt diminishing sales since 2014, they introduced The Dream Gap Project which battles against the restrictive notions of femininity young girls have to battle from a young age.
But casting Margot Robbie – regardless of her obvious and unequivocal talent as a young actor – feels like a huge step backwards.
Let’s be honest, most of us couldn’t relate to Margot, even in our wildest dreams. The message still, it seems, is girls can be whatever they want as long as they look a certain way. Read: White and slim and boasting a huge expendable income.
As far as being excited for the upcoming film goes, the real criticism is this: The casting just simply so boring, predictable and the antithesis of many of Margot’s previous choices for roles.
At a time when the demand for inclusivity has reached a newfound high – and diversity is proven to be rewarded by audiences both in terms of reception and pursestrings as in Black Panther, Aquaman, Crazy Rich Asians and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before – Robbie just doesn’t feel right.
Of course, Robbie is more than allowed to play Barbie – hell, we can all agree she’ll be convincing – but wouldn’t it be ground-breakingly wonderful if the opportunity had been given to a non-white actor?
Still, while much of the Internet Jury have hailed the casting choice as ‘perfect’ and ‘iconic’, a la Buzzfeed, these opinions have tended to be accompanied by side-by-side comparisons of how much Margot looks like Barbie.
Herein lies another problem. Robbie, as an actor, is simply miles better than this degrading and superficial narrative which states an actor has to look like the character to do a good job.
And, as we painfully discovered with Disney’s welcome live action feminist update of The Beauty and The Beast, just because an actor looks a lot like their character, doesn’t mean they won’t deliver a wooden performance (sorry, Emma Watson, I love you really).
Newsflash: It’s called acting. Transformations are supposed to be what they’re good at.
Despite being a great fan of Robbie and her body of work, even I’m a little skeptical as to whether she can make a Barbie film ‘fresh’ in 2019.
Even if the upcoming Barbie film plans to break the Mattel mould of aesthetic conformity with a cute brain-over-beauty plot twist, as Schumer’s I Feel Pretty attempted last year, and as other reboots have executed with half-hearted feminist slant since, the casting makes Mattel’s mission come off insincere.
Simply put, younger female viewing audiences are too wised up… Just like Barbie herself.
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