It’s a tale as old as time. Something new, fun and subversive comes out — and religious conservatives swarm, declaring it “satanic,” “demonic” and “unholy.”
The latest target of the far right is Greta Gerwig’s new “Barbie” movie that I went to see this past weekend. (By the way, Gerwig was raised a Unitarian Universalist and went to Catholic school, but doesn’t currently have a particular religious affiliation.)
The movie follows Margot Robbie’s “Stereotypical Barbie” who, suddenly stricken with worries about mortality, leaves the matriarchal utopia of Barbie Land in search of self-discovery in the real world (with Ryan Gosling’s Ken tagging along for the ride). It is a hysterical and vibrant tribute to the iconic doll that also contains a nuanced exploration of Barbie’s cultural impact, both the good and the bad. It dives into topics such as consumer culture, parental relationships, gender dynamics — and much more. However, you would never know that if you relied on the takes from religious extremists.
Before the movie was even released, many Christians had already vowed to boycott it because of its “demonic” support of LGBTQ people. Tennessee-based pastor Kent Christmas ranted about a film he hadn’t seen: “I curse in the name of the Lord this new Barbie movie that has been released full of transsexual, and transgender, and homosexuality.” He then called for God to make a “holy judgment” on the film.
Reactionary Ben Shapiro released a 43-minute rant that starts with him setting multiple Barbies on fire. He derided it as the “most woke movie” he has ever seen and criticized the film for including a transgender character. The movie has also become the victim of “review bombing” as conservative activists attack it for being “woke” and “anti-men propaganda.” MovieWeb reports on some of the reactions:
“I’m all for equality but this movie was not good. They made it sound like every man was a POS. It is a woken film!!!!! Had some of my fav actors in it and I will not watch another movie with them in it again. What a waste of money and time. Do not watch!!!” from one user. Another said, “Barbie proves just how important a good marketing team is. And by “good” I mean “deceptively misleading.” A third said, “If you’re a man hater then this is the movie for you. What a waist[sic] of time to watch.”
A Christian review of the film from Movieguide, titled, “WARNING: Don’t take your daughter to Barbie,” warned: “The new BARBIE movie forgets its core audience of families and children while catering to nostalgic adults and pushing transgender character stories.” It predicted that the movie “made a grievous mistake” because it didn’t appeal to its “core audience” of conservative Christians:
“They had a built-in market and audience for this franchise that they completely ignored,” said a Movieguide® staff member. “Millions of families would have turned out to the theaters and purchased tickets, but instead, Mattel chose to cater to a small percentage of the population who has proven over and over to abandon the box office. Movieguide®’s 40 years of research indicate this just isn’t true, and Mattel has made a grievous mistake.”
Despite this “grievous mistake,” the film “grossed a record-breaking $155 million domestically — and $377 million internationally — in its first weekend.” It also crushed right-wing efforts to boycott the movie because of its so-called “man-hating” and “woke feminism” agenda, scoring the biggest film debut of 2023 and the biggest opening weekend ever for a film directed by a woman.
For her part, Gerwig has taken the right-wing backlash in stride, telling the New York Times, “My hope for the movie is that it’s an invitation for everybody to be part of the party and let go of the things that aren’t necessarily serving us as either women or men.” I hope that more people will heed her invitation, lighten up and just enjoy the movie because it is a triumph.