The cultural dialog surrounding Barbie, Mattel’s ubiquitous and influential best-selling doll, has all the time been a contentious one, and it grew to become even thornier in 2016 when the corporate gave its flagship model a dangerous makeover. “Tiny Shoulders: Rethinking Barbie” charts that undertaking from inception to launch, alongside the best way offering a historical past lesson on not solely the doll’s evolution but additionally, extra fascinatingly, on the best way the product has mirrored, and in flip formed, the zeitgeist. These on each side of the controversy ought to discover Andrea Nevins’ documentary illuminating and thought-provoking when, following its Tribeca Movie Pageant premiere, it debuts completely on Hulu.
From the second it landed on — and promptly flew off of — retailer cabinets in 1959, Barbie has been a phenomenon and, due to that recognition, a lightning rod. Is she an empowering toy that encourages women to dream massive and, in doing so, helps them outline their feminist identities? Or is she the embodiment of an unrealistic, and thus dangerous, vapid sexist preferrred, making ladies of all ages really feel dangerous about themselves and their our bodies?
Nevins’ documentary means that the reply to each questions is sure, as a result of Barbie’s attraction comes from each her fantasyland magnificence in addition to her varied independent-woman skilled guises (be it astronaut or flight attendant). Talking with various authors and lecturers (together with Gloria Steinem, whose each remark sounds laced with antipathy for the doll and the hurt she feels it’s precipitated), “Tiny Shoulders” captures, per its title, the immense burden Barbie has needed to bear because the nexus for all kinds of prickly debates — about body-shaming, stereotyping and office/home roles — that, to today, have but to be totally resolved.
With gross sales down in 2014, it falls to go of design Kim Culmone to plan a brand new Twenty first-century path ahead for the enduring blonde. Culmone’s eventual plan includes fully rewriting the model by launching three bodily dissimilar Barbies (Petite, Tall and Curvy), which she hopes will let the doll higher replicate society as a complete. Simply as daunting as Culmone’s makes an attempt to make these redesigned Barbies progressive and worthwhile, PR chief Michelle Chidoni is then tasked with promoting the idea to the world — a monumental endeavor as a result of, to some extent, it inherently means admitting that the unique Barbie was, in some essential approach, problematic.
In glimpses of Culmone and Chidoni’s dwelling life — the previous along with her spouse, the latter along with her 2-year-old daughter — “Tiny Shoulders” reveals that this radical operation is being pushed by the very sorts of good, numerous, fashionable ladies it hopes to encourage youngsters to turn into by way of the brand new dolls. Consequently, Nevins’ movie posits Culmone and Chidoni because the non secular heirs to the doll’s creator, Ruth Handler, a fiercely impartial girl who thrived in a male-dominated enterprise setting. Nonetheless, the director eschews hagiography, straight confronting the issues and contradictions of Mattel’s endeavor. Whether or not Barbie is able to being the whole lot to everybody whereas remaining fascinating to younger shoppers, a lot of whom undoubtedly like her exactly as a result of she’s unrealistic, proves a central situation that’s addressed with a lucidity and frankness, freed from moralizing.
Proficient on all technical fronts, the doc embraces the elemental attract of its topic even because it dissects Barbie’s position in molding, for higher and worse, American ideas of feminine attractiveness, ambition and self-worth. And finally, it means that maybe there isn’t one definitive conclusion available in regards to the doll: Like her new line, Barbie’s impression continues to return in a wide range of sizes and shapes.