Barbie Movie Controversy & Backlash Explained

By Klein Felt Posted:
Margot Robbie as Barbie smiling

There has been plenty of controversy and backlash bubbling online as Greta Gerwig's Barbie film makes its streaming debut on Max

The candy-pink blockbuster originally debuted in theaters in July 2023, going on to become the biggest box office hit of the year.  

While looking like a simple Margot Robbie-led take on Mattel's iconic doll, the film turned out to be a biting commentary on patriarchy, legacy, and what it means to be a woman in the modern world. 

Barbie's Biggest Controversy Explained

Simu Lius, Margot Robbie, and Ryan Gosling in Barbie movie
Warner Bros.

The biggest sticking point people seem to have when it comes to the Barbie film has to do with the idea that the film is "woke."

Some detractors brought this controversial idea back during the film's original theatrical run, but the topic has resurfaced as it makes its streaming debut

According to some, Barbie was described as "anti-male" or "propagandist" for its themes deconstructing the largely male-led society the film was released. 

At the center of the Warner Bros. blockbuster, was the fictional Barbieland, a place where women (Barbies) hold all positions of power and the men (Kens) are simply objects with no value other than that assigned to them by the Barbies. 

This Barbieland parabole was a clear satirization of the real world; however, some believe it to be sexist, denying the power gap that exists between genders across the globe.

Greta Gerwig is known for her self-aware and personal commentaries on what it means to be a woman and feminism as a whole (i.e. Lady Bird and Little Women). 

Barbie is her most pointed film to date though, something that has seemingly caused a backlash amongst those against the idea that the world has any sort of gender gap problems worth offering commentary upon. 

The diversity of its cast is another "progressive" view naysayers seem to have a problem. The Barbies and Kens seen in the movie are not just the typical blonde-haired white-skinned characters that may come to mind when thinking about the brand. 

The residents of Barbieland are of diverse skin tones and ethnicities. One member of this stacked ensemble is even a trans woman (Doctor Barbie actor Hari Nef).

Most of these "wokeness" comments have come from bad actors, internet trolls, and right-wing commentators known for their sexist and closed-minded views. 

Other Barbie Movie Backlash

There are a few other things that put Barbie in the headlines, including a controversial map seen in the movie and the inclusion of some controversial names from Barbie's history. 

During an early sequence, a hand-drawn map of the real world can be seen. This cartograph drew the ire of officials in Vietnam, getting the film banned in the country. 

It depicted what is known as the "nine-dash line," a notation seen on many world maps that reinforces the Chinese territorial claims of the South China Sea. Vietnam government officials claim the line violates the country's sovereignty, and featuring it in the film was an act against this belief. 

Also, some were shocked to see that Barbie featured some shelved characters from the renowned toy brand's past. Amongst these were Micheal Cera's Allan (Ken's best friend) and Emerald Fennell's Midge. 

While Allan is fairly uncontroversial, known throughout the film as "just Allan," Midge was based on the contentious pregnant Barbie doll introduced in 2003. She came sporting a pregnant belly, even including a baby inside that could be removed. 

Pregnant Midge was eventually discontinued as parents thought young girls playing with the doll might promote teen pregnancy, with the character being revamped to no longer include a pregnant look. 

Barbie is now streaming on Max. 

- In This Article: Barbie
Release Date
July 21, 2023
Issa Rae
Kate McKinnon
Ryan Gosling
- About The Author: Klein Felt
Klein Felt is a Senior Editor at The Direct. Joining the website back in 2020, he helped jumpstart video game content on The Direct. Klein plays a vital role as a part of the site's content team, demonstrating expertise in all things PlayStation, Marvel, and the greater entertainment industry.