Spoiler Alert: This article will discuss the plot of Barbie (2023).
Barbie is an American fantasy comedy film that was released in July 2023. It is directed and co-written by Greta Gerwig. The film follows the story of Barbie, who after malfunctioning in Barbieland embarks on a journey to the real world in the hopes of becoming a normal Barbie again.
Womanhood in Barbie
The feminist message of female empowerment accompanies Margot Robbie’s ‘stereotypical’ Barbie throughout the entire film. However, Barbie opens up a wider discussion on womanhood and manhood. The Barbie dolls are played by an array of diverse actresses, including trans actress Hari Nef. She plays the role of Doctor Barbie. While the film does not dive into trans identity, Barbie still manages to touch upon LGBTQ+ issues without naming them as such.
In fact, the film features several openly LGBTQ+ actors, like Hari Nef, Kate McKinnon, Alexandra Shipp, and Scott Evans. Even before its release, many conservatives, including a Christian preacher, were already condemning the film for being seemingly too queer.
In Barbieland, where all the Barbie dolls live, womanhood is not defined by what is between your legs but how you feel as a person, or in Barbie’s case, as a doll. The doll’s lack of genitals avoids othering any potential trans Barbie. In real life, anti-trans conservatives often use the concept of genitals to invalidate trans women’s womanhood, as though women are solely defined by their body parts. However, in Barbie, this point of view is completely dismissed because the dolls do not have genitals. The women in Barbieland get to exist and express their femininity without having to be defined by what is between their legs.
While this might not have been intentional, the doll’s lack of genitals also negates the assumption that all dolls are supposed to mirror cis women. In fact, having a trans actress play one of the Barbie dolls showcases that the dolls’ womanhood and femininity is not limited to cis women. The film demonstrates that trans women are part of womanhood.
Allan’s masculinity vs Ken’s masculinity
The most unique character of Barbie was Allan. While the film never confirms his queerness, it is evident that his character, played by Michael Cera, was not written to be a straight man. Allan stands in opposition to all the Kens. Ken is muscular and almost ‘Himbo’ like, whereas Allan’s appearance is more lanky and weak. The oppositional portrayals of manhood clash as Ken creates a patriarchy out of Barbieland, after seeing how men exist and assert their dominance in the real world.
Allan’s masculinity does not crumble at the thought of Barbie’s empowerment, but he actually seeks to restore it. His lack of interest in Barbie’s sex appeal and attraction to the Kens others Allan as potentially queer. He stands with Barbie and contributes to making Barbieland a safe space for women again. This relationship is reflected in real life. Although often tokenised and seen as ‘the gay best friend’, there seems to be an unspoken alliance straight women feel towards gay men.
Research published in Psychology Science found that heterosexual women feel more comfortable and intimate when engaging with gay men, compared to straight men. The findings are likely attributed to the fact that straight women do not fear gay men’s unwanted sexual advances the way they do with straight men. Therefore, making it possible for Allan to fight alongside the Barbies without ever being perceived as a threat.
Allan was made for us
Besides serving as a contrast to Ken’s fragile masculinity, the character of Allan also resonated a lot with members of the trans community. While in the film Allan is portrayed as a man, his role in Barbieland mirrors the experiences of many trans and non-binary people. In recent discourse on social media, many trans creators have expressed their attachment to Allan, as someone who does not fit into the binary of Barbie and Ken, man and woman. Allan exists as a separate entity, one not defined by the Barbies and the Kens, while still living in their world. Allan fights for the Barbies and admires the Kens but is neither one of them at the same time. He is his own person.
‘I related to Allan … I know that maybe he wasn’t written for us transmasc/genderqueer people but I loved that character so much!’, non-binary content creator @callmejo explained on TikTok. This sentiment was shared by many other non-binary and trans masculine people on the app who have claimed this important side-character as part of their own community.
While Greta Gerwig’s Barbie focuses primarily on women’s empowerment and freedom from patriarchal structures, it still leaves room for queer and trans people to see themselves represented in the most unlikely of characters in Barbieland, who mirror real life experiences. Whether you are interested in political commentary through satire or simply like watching bright, colourful and well-directed films, make sure to watch Barbie in theatres NOW!