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  • Amir Steklov

On Feminism and White Supremacy in Barbie and Poor Things

Updated: Mar 6

Written by: Amir Ovadia Steklov - All rights resaved.


Barbie (2023) - Greta Gerwig

Budget: $128–145 million

Box office: $1.446 billion

 

Poor things (2024) - Yorgos Lanthimos

Budget: $35 million

Box office: $104.6 million

 


When comparing Barbie and Poor Things, one can observe a new trend in Hollywood blockbusters – Feminism that is strongly associated with white privilege and white male understanding.


Both movies depict a naïve, childish, doll-like, female protagonist (Margot Robbie & Emma Stone, respectively) being controlled by a man who traps her in an “ideal” world: in Barbie, this man is the CEO of Mattel (Will Ferrell) and later Ken (Ryan Gosling), and in Poor Things, it is Godwin Baxter (Willem Dafoe), Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffalo), and Max McCandles (Ramy Youssef).


In both movies, the female protagonist “grows” out of her naïve bubble after exposure to the “real world”. This new world is portrayed as an enlightened-modern-western society, controlled by privileged rich white people.

In both movies, the ideas of feminism are portrayed as an original spark, as part of the awakening of the white baby-doll protagonist. As an opposing ideal to male domination over her body and freedom.


In both films, the portrayal of the antagonists' transformation is depicted as forced and artificial. They undergo a change in their worldview towards women through a rather simplistic process: In Barbie, women influence them by whispering a few words in their ears, while in Poor Things, the shift occurs when Bella Baxter returns home as a more mature woman. Notably, she doesn't even have to say anything to them; they are already on her side.


In both movies, the new feminist awakened baby-doll protagonist comes to terms with her oppressor. She understands the rich-white-man who imprisoned and abused her, forgives him, and in Poor Things, even marries him.

These ideas are dangerous when considering the unprecedented popularity of these two movies and the common narrative they enforce upon us:


- Depicting feminism as an idea that only happened in modern western society for the first time by privileged white people ultimately leads to a discourse of white supremacism – it tells a narrative in which white-privileged western culture is superior to other cultures because it’s the only one that gives rights to women. This narrative is not only historically incorrect but also inherently colonial!


- Depicting feminism as a commodity that only people with means can purchase does the exact opposite for minority populations; it tells them that they are never going to experience those privileges, but they should come to terms with the fact that their oppressor is enlightened, and that, by itself, should satisfy them enough. In other words, minorities should not expect to enjoy feminism; it’s an exclusive privilege that only rich-white people have access to.


- Depicting feminism as an original spark-idea that the white baby-doll protagonist originally came up with ignores the countless women who fought for those ideas for centuries! It’s a complete colonial appropriation of the achievements of feminist and BIPOC fights for equal rights!!!


- The character arc of the male antagonist, from being an evil oppressor to becoming a friendly partner, gives the wrong idea that oppressing-chauvinist men should not be held accountable for their crimes; it says that they are “victims of their times,” and the female baby-doll now needs to understand and accept their flaws and crimes without fighting for justice.

 

Conclusion: In my opinion, both Barbie and Poor Things are a direct reaction to the #metoo movement and the new Hollywood power grab on feminism. The audience is asking for progressive, modern, feminist, queer, authentic, BIPOC content, and Hollywood is delivering crowd-pleasing movies that are wrapped with plastic-fake colors, humor, and sexy baby-dolls that talk about feminism but deliver the exact opposite message in the wider context and subtext.

 

If you are looking to clean your plate with a real feminist film that went under the radar for most people (probably because the protagonist is not white), I’d recommend watching Till (2022) - Chinonye Chukwu.

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