How DO you make a Bar­bie movie in the age of MeToo?

An­swer: rein­vent her as a kick-ass fem­i­nist – and cast an ac­tress who, as these pho­tos show, has been au­di­tion­ing for the role her whole life!

The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - Peter Hitchens - Caro­line Gra­ham

IT IS a co­nun­drum that has stumped even the finest Hol­ly­wood cast­ing di­rec­tors – how to make a movie about a dumb blonde for the #MeToo gen­er­a­tion. And per­haps it’s no sur­prise that, for all the beau­ti­ful, im­pos­si­bly pro­por­tioned ac­tresses in Tin­sel­town, none has been will­ing to take the role of Bar­bie in a ma­jor new Hol­ly­wood film. Un­til now.

Step for­ward Mar­got Rob­bie, and a newlook Bar­bie who, ac­cord­ing to in­sid­ers, is about to make one of the most un­likely trans­for­ma­tions in the his­tory of plas­tic dolls, from air­head to fem­i­nist icon.

Ac­cord­ing to a source within Mat­tel, the toy-maker re­spon­si­ble for cre­at­ing the doll and new film in de­vel­op­ment, Rob­bie’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion will have an ‘edge’.

‘She’s some­one who is re­lat­able to both men and women. She’s whip-smart and a fem­i­nist. That’s what Mat­tel is look­ing for,’ said the source. ‘Bar­bie has been at­tacked over the years for be­ing an un­re­al­is­tic model for girls, for be­ing fo­cused on fash­ion and be­ing beau­ti­ful.

‘Mat­tel has been des­per­ately try­ing to change her im­age. The new film will have a tra­di­tional-look­ing Bar­bie with dis­tinctly un­tra­di­tional views. It is all about mak­ing her re­lat­able in a modern world.

‘Mar­got is a fem­i­nist. The new script em­pow­ers Bar­bie and has a lot of hu­mour. Peo­ple will be sur­prised.’

They cer­tainly will. In­deed, just get­ting 28-year-old Rob­bie, one of Hol­ly­wood’s bright­est young ac­tresses, on board has been some­thing of a coup.

The Aus­tralian-born star made her name op­po­site Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf Of Wall Street and was Os­car-nom­i­nated for her role as con­tro­ver­sial US fig­ure skater Tonya Hard­ing in I, Tonya.

Mat­tel was no doubt pleased to see that Rob­bie likes to talk about em­brac­ing ‘newwave fem­i­nism’, but as these pic­tures show, she has other dis­tinct ad­van­tages when it comes to pre­tend­ing to be the most fa­mous doll on the planet.

In­deed she ap­pears to have been qui­etly au­di­tion­ing for years.

For some time, the ac­tress has adopted a wardrobe eerily sim­i­lar to the range for Bar­bie. Evening gowns have the same dia­manté studs or plung­ing neck­lines, flo­ral frills or risqué hem­lines. Even Bar­bie’s more de­mure out­fits – a flight at­ten­dant’s uni­form or a Pe­ter Pan-col­lared dress – have proved an in­spi­ra­tion.

‘Mar­got is Bar­bie’s dop­pel­ganger and the fact she’s been dress­ing like Bar­bie, whether in­ten­tion­ally or purely by chance, sim­ply re­in­forces the fact she’s the best woman for the part,’ the source said.

‘But Bar­bie is about more than good looks. Mat­tel wants her to be an as­pi­ra­tional fig­ure who in­spires young girls to be what­ever they want to be in life.

‘Mar­got is some­one who has achieved so much. She started in Neigh­bours and is now an Os­car-nom­i­nated ac­tress. Who bet­ter to play Bar­bie? Her Bar­bie will be sassy, funny and smart.’

It is not hard to see why get­ting the £80mil­lion movie made has been tough, or, as an in­sider put it, ‘de­vel­op­ment hell’. Af­ter all, the Warner Broth­ers pro­duc­tion is bat­tling a tide of Bar­bie-re­lated con­tro­versy which has built over 60 years.

Ac­tress and co­me­dian Amy Schumer, who was ini­tially cast as Bar­bie, dropped out in 2017 cit­ing ‘sched­ul­ing is­sues’. She was re­placed by Les Mis­érables star Anne Hath­away, who qui­etly left the project at the end of last year.

‘The script wasn’t up to par,’ ex­plains the source – and it wasn’t the only one, with at­tempts dumped on the way, in­clud­ing one writ­ten by for­mer Sex And The City writer Jenny Bicks. It seems most of them have stuck to a brave new theme: that Bar­bie must leave her fan­tasy world of Mal­ibu man­sions and pink Corvettes and fi­nally face re­al­ity.

Ac­cord­ing to some­one who has seen a ver­sion (the Rob­bie script is still be­ing writ­ten), it has ‘echoes of Legally Blonde, about a per­fec­tion­ist who en­ters the real world’.

‘One of the more re­cent ver­sions of the film em­braced modern themes like body dys­mor­phia, on­line bul­ly­ing and how many young women strug­gle with body im­age in a world where peer pres­sure is im­mense,’ the source said.

‘Mar­got is pro­duc­ing the new film and will have a great deal of in­put into the plot­lines and how her Bar­bie will be a modern woman mak­ing her own way in the world.’

The brand has his­tor­i­cally been crit­i­cised for cre­at­ing a doll which rep­re­sented an im­age im­pos­si­ble for young girls to em­u­late.

If Bar­bie’s elon­gated body and tiny waist were trans­lated into the real world, she would be 5ft 9in with a 39in bust, an 18in waist, 33in hips and a size three shoe. At just 110 lb she would be con­sid­ered anorexic – and her child-sized feet would not sup­port her body.

There have been ad­di­tional grum­bles that the range con­trib­utes to the de­rided ‘pink-ifi­ca­tion’ of girls’ child­hoods, and has his­tor­i­cally failed to be racially in­clu­sive.

Yet Mat­tel, which sells three Bar­bie dolls a sec­ond, ar­gues it has been fight­ing to ‘mod­ernise’ Bar­bie for some time.

In­vented in 1959 by Amer­i­can busi­ness­woman Ruth Han­dler, who was tired of see­ing girls only be­ing of­fered ‘baby’ dolls, they now come in a range of 17 dif­fer­ent skin tones. No longer ex­clu­sively blonde, there are 24 pos­si­ble hair­styles in­clud­ing an afro and long blue hair.

In 2017 they even in­tro­duced a line with more re­al­is­tic fig­ures, in­clud­ing curvy hips and thighs. Over the years she has gone from be­ing sim­ply a fash­ion tem­plate to hold­ing a va­ri­ety of ‘as­pi­ra­tional’ jobs from as­tro­naut to sur­geon.

The his­tory of Bar­bie films is not il­lus­tri­ous. So far there have been 28 an­i­mated ver­sions, all of which went straight to DVD. This lat­est project has yet to an­nounce a di­rec­tor or even a work­ing ti­tle.

De­spite the con­tro­versy, pro­duc­tion has con­tin­ued and cash to fund the film has not stopped flow­ing.

‘Mat­tel first de­cided to make a live-ac­tion Bar­bie film in 2014 but the chal­lenge has been to make her re­lat­able to to­day’s au­di­ence,’ ex­plained the in­sider.

‘Bar­bie is iconic but there are pit­falls. The script has to bal­ance how she has been per­ceived for gen­er­a­tions – as a blonde bomb­shell – with how Mat­tel is try­ing to rein­vent her for to­day’s au­di­ence.

‘It’s been a fraught process which is why other ac­tresses have dropped out. But ev­ery­one is now buzzing about Mar­got. She’s per­fect in looks but she also brings a sassy in­tel­li­gence to the role.’

If her re­cent gush­ing com­ments about Bar­bie are any­thing to go by, she will have no prob­lem fit­ting into her new role.

‘Play­ing with Bar­bie pro­motes con­fi­dence, cu­rios­ity and com­mu­ni­ca­tion through­out a child’s jour­ney to self-dis­cov­ery,’ she en­thused in a state­ment. Mat­tel will no doubt be hop­ing so.

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