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Barbie Doesn’t Have An Arc?? Puhlease! Stop Revealing Your Lack Of Craft

Barbie At The Oscars

So Barbie got a single Oscar win in 2024. After weeks of speculation and outcry online, I think the most surprising thing – for me, anyway –  is WHICH song it got the gong for … ‘What Am I Made For?’ by Billie Eilish. (I don’t know about you, but I barely remember this song in the movie, whereas ‘I’m Just Ken’ is still a banger IMHO).

Since being released in the summer of 2023, Barbie has inspired countless ‘think pieces’ online. Inevitably, there were lots of calls from right-wingers about Barbie‘s supposed treatment of male characters. We all laughed at viral Facebook posts of MRAs (‘mens rights activists’) lamenting poor Ken, because: obviously.

So imagine my surprise when I started noticing hot mess takes from women about how Barbie apparently ‘doesn’t have an arc’!

Ring, ring: the Department of WRONG is on the line again. Ready?? Let’s go …

Barbie Very DEFINITELY Has An Arc

Barbie starts off in a female utopia. Everything is about her. But what’s more, ALL Barbies feel this way … and no, not all Barbies look the same. Yes, Margot Robbie is blonde and white, but guess what: so was Barbie when she was first released. (Hell, Robbie’s version is even called ‘stereotypical Barbie’!!).

Barbie has somewhat of an existential crisis, forcing her to go and look for something ‘more’. So she goes from believing the world is ‘fine’ to discovering HOLY CRAP NO IT ISN’T … Through to self-determination her way.

That’s an arc, FFS! Whether you liked it is another matter, but to say she doesn’t have one is absurd.

Newsflash: Ken was the ANTAGONIST

I read a gazillion op-eds and posts putting Barbie on blast so you didn’t have to. In many, the issues appear to be:

  • Ken is the ‘stand-out’ character
  • His song ‘I’m just Ken’ is the best thing about the movie
  • He gets more lines or more screen-time than Barbie
  • Everything revolves around him
  • Barbie apologises to him at the end (and he doesn’t apologise back)

If people like Ken or his song best, that’s okay. Audiences tend to love antiheroes and even outright villains a lot in the 2020s. This doesn’t mean they don’t understand the point of the character.

What’s more, Ryan Gosling plays Ken, who is an A-List star. He’s super-talented, highly personable, very good-looking and a great singer. He’s also a great actor. What’s NOT to like??

I’m giving serious side-eye to the idea Ken gets more lines than Barbie herself, though. I haven’t got the patience to count scene by scene, so maybe it’s true … But even if it is, I’ve written before that female leads are NOT defined by dialogue.

Screen-time and events ‘revolve’ around Ken??

It’s important to remember Ken is the ANTAGONIST. This is a major role function. Barbie requires a villain of the piece to get in her way. That’s not ‘preferential treatment’ for a male character, that’s just screenwriting 101.

Also: remember, Barbie doesn’t even ask Ken to go with her. He just pops up in her car and tags along, getting accidentally radicalised along the way.

Had the villain been another female character – perhaps another Barbie – this would have been serious misstep in my opinion. It would have suggested – at least thematically – that a female utopia is impossible thanks to other women. Erm, no thanks!

Ken And ‘The Friend Zone’

The movie makes a strong commentary about the so-called ‘friend zone’ with Ken. He makes an expectation of being ‘with’ Barbie (even though neither of them really know what this means). When she makes it clear he doesn’t figure on her radar, Ken descends into self-pity and then, revenge.

Any woman who has ever been accused of ‘friend-zoning’ a man knows this pain. There’s lots of discussion from the male-centric POV about friend-zoning, but relatively little until now from the female POV. It’s so disappointing to think you have a friendship with a man who it turns out was only ever interested in sleeping with you.

However, Barbie is primarily a movie for young girls. Whilst the ‘friend zone vs. sex’ element is obvious to older female viewers, it won’t be for most tweens and younger teens.

Barbie’s apology to Ken places her innocent optimism front and centre again for those viewers. Barbie’s world is inclusive – there are Barbies of all backgrounds after all – but she realises she has not included Ken.

AGAIN: Barbie is NOT saying that Ken was right and she was wrong.

Rather than making it a female utopia or a male dystopia, Barbie makes the point that it should be a world in which everyone is included. That’s it: nothing more, nothing less.

What’s more, Ken says ‘thank you for saying that‘. These are key words that not only back up my point above, it shows he has had a little character growth. He thanks her for the apology and accepts his way of doing things was not the ‘correct’ one.

While Greta Gerwig and Noam Baumbach could have tied it up in a neat bow and had Ken apologise as well, would this have taken away from Barbie’s realisation? Also, let’s not forget that even at the end of the movie, Ken is still a bit of a dickhead, let’s face it! I strongly suspect the same people complaining about him NOT apologising would say any apology he gave back to Barbie would feel ‘forced’.

Was Barbie a perfect movie?

Of course not. Such a thing does not exist and never will.

But every time a female-lead movie does well, all the ‘pick me’ gals race forward to say “IT WAS SO DISAPPOINTING CUZ [REASONS]!!!’

You realise the Dudeflakes already have that covered, right??

Most frustrating is these fem-critters rarely understand how writing craft works but will INSIST that their interpretations are craft-based. They’re not.

Some critiques of Barbie have also accused the movie of being ‘white feminism‘. Whilst it’s true the movie stars a white woman and was written and directed by a white woman, I don’t think this is a fair tag.

As mentioned already: not all Barbies look the same in the movie, neither do all the Kens

Simu Liu is an East Asian Ken and presented as desirable, just like Gosling’s. This is a big deal because East Asian male characters are frequently depicted as sexless.

What’s more, Ncuti Gatwa brings black queer energy to his version of Ken. America Ferrara is a Latina woman in the human lead role of Gloria, too. There’s plenty more where that came from.

It’s also important to remember that even in the 2020s, behind the camera is still not equitable for women even with a proven track record (including white women).

Greta Gerwig might be an A-List director, but we are still living in a world in which there has only been TWO Oscars given to female directors. (That’s Kathryn Bigelow and Chloe Zhao — that’s right! Both post the year 2000, plus this year’s nominee Justine Triet is only the eighth female director nominated EVER).

As an A-List female star who can command big projects, Margot Robbie would have helped green-light the movie. This in turn would have helped cast others. The whole point of the story was she was the ‘first’ one – as per reality – and Barbie-Land expanded. What’s more, as mentioned at the beginning of this article:

SHE WAS LITERALLY CALLED STEREOTYPICAL BARBIE!!!

So, no: I don’t think Barbie was a symptom of ‘white feminism’ but rather a collection of real-world and story-based factors … just like every movie, ever then! It’s very frustrating how individual female-led movies get it in the neck more from social media like this, when it’s the system that should be put on blast.

For me, Barbie was less ‘white feminism’ than ACCESSIBLE FEMINISM aka ‘Feminism 101’.

But don’t just take my word for it — here’s @BlkAssFeminist with her take … give her a follow!!!

Kyra also puts the idea BARBIE was ‘white feminism’ on blast, too:

Look, dislike anything you want

That goes without saying. As I’m always at pains to point here on this site, dislike of a story is enough. You don’t have to find [REASONS]. Yes, really!

Honestly, I was lukewarm on Barbie. Such a film was not for really ‘for me’. I spend loads of time thinking about feminism and intersectionality and all that other stuff.

As mentioned, a film like Barbie is primarily for young girls, plus women who have not thought much about feminism before. That’s why social media lit up with THE BIG SPEECH Gloria makes (which apparently took two days, 500 takes and was influenced by America Ferrara’s performance and interpretations).

Movies are no substitute for proper outreach or education. The sooner fem-critters realise this, the better.

The Power of Movies

Audiences want to be ENTERTAINED, not lectured. This is not rocket science … and like BlkAssFeminist points out, Barbie did that and more besides.

I can illustrate too. My girls – aged 17 and 12 – loved Barbie. It didn’t make a huge splash with them like it did some girls their age because I’m their mother. We talk about these things a lot, so they have heard these concepts before.

However, some of their friends made a beeline for me after watching the movie, to ask me more about patriarchy. Since last summer I have had a steady row of teens in my house and in my DMs asking me to talk about this with them.

This includes a few boys, by the way. I have recommended all sorts to them such as Bell Hooks to The Yellow Wallpaper to foster their burgeoning interest. NOW THAT is the power of movies!

Look, no single movie can ever encapsulate everything on a topic. It’s not what people want from movies. But thoughtful ones – whether we like them or not – can light the blue touchpaper and be the catalyst for people learning more. What’s not to like??

Grab your Free Masterclass on Characterisation

Don’t forget – click below to grab your free characterisation masterclass for more on this topic. I cover role function vs motivation; archetype vs stereotype; & trope versus cliche plus more besides. Enjoy!

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2 thoughts on “Barbie Doesn’t Have An Arc?? Puhlease! Stop Revealing Your Lack Of Craft”

  1. I haven’t seen the movie but like the points you make. It’s like, come on guys where’s your sense of humour. A persons view point and stance is their own, and if movies have the power to manipulate that by process of enlightened education is that a bad thing? Even if it could be argued that the message and content is subjective and probably even biased- oh and politically correct.

  2. I just watched “Poor Things” and thought it was the opposite of “Barbie”. A male point of view of a woman discovering herself and the world (primarily through sex). The male point of view is that sex is the driving force until there’s an awareness that there is more to life than masturbating and copulating. Meanwhile Barbie discovers herself and what she wants from the world. It ‘s not until the final scene that she becomes sexualized when she gets a vagina; however we don’t see her use it. I enjoyed “Barbie” but felt “Poor Things” was the anti feminist film that abused poor Emma Stone by making her appear in a soft porn film while claiming it was a strong feminist role for her.

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