Sure, “Barbie” was a billion-dollar blockbuster, but writer-director Greta Gerwig is revealing that the film‘s backers were skeptical about her approach to the material due to Todd Haynes‘ controversial 1987 short “Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story.”

During a roundtable discussion for The Hollywood Reporter, Gerwig admitted that “Barbie” producers were “nervous about the possibilities” of bringing the Mattel doll to the big screen in part because of Haynes’ use of the dolls in “Superstar.” Haynes’ experimental 1987 short film focused on singer Karen Carpenter’s battle with anorexia, with Barbie dolls used to convey the star’s disintegrating state in the public eye. Richard Carpenter sued over the licensing of The Carpenters’ music, and the film was never properly distributed.

“I was going to say, you made the original ‘Barbie’ movie,” Gerwig said to Haynes. “There was a bootleg of it at Cannes.”

She added, “It’s a wonderful thing that we’re sitting at the table right now because I think genuinely, you made [‘Barbie’ backers] nervous about the possibilities about what it could be. I would say the approach in that movie that you took, it was something that Noah [Baumbach] and I talked about. The way you used Barbies was part of the cultural history of Barbie. But I think they were like, ‘Are you going to do that thing that he did?’ And we’re like, ‘Well…’”

Haynes replied that the dolls were used as a “subtext” to show the commodification of women’s bodies across media for decades.

“My use of Barbies was as a subtext to a story about how women’s bodies are commodified and this incredibly heartbreaking story of a young woman suffering from anorexia nervosa,” Haynes said. “But you took on the cultural meaning of Barbie, and you exploded it and also made a concoction … a confection that everybody could share.” 

James Cameron recently echoed the sentiment and told Gerwig during Variety’s Actors on Actors series that “Barbie” captures the epitome of feminist struggle over centuries.

“You basically sum up thousands of years of the female dilemma in one minute,” Cameron said. “I don’t think it’s ever been done as succinctly and hit the mark so perfectly.”

Leave a comment