A Trans Man's Review of Barbie

Note: This review is not a promotion of the movie, but a critique highlighting both the good and the bad. I support the current strikes by the WGA (Writers' Guild of America) and SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) and condemn the studios and their executives who prosper by exploiting the workers who help them make billions. I also watched the movie in theatres as the strikers did NOT ask for a consumers' boycott, and this review is in accordance with strike rules. Solidarity to the striking workers.

This review contains spoilers.

I should admit that my initial interest in the Barbie movie was an ironic one. Between hosting movie nights for iconic bad films and people treating media catered towards children as avant-garde masterpieces as a 'bit', there has been an uptick in ironic movie consumption and I wanted to watch Barbie for the bit. I wasn't particularly into Barbie dolls as a kid, and only had access to the bootleg versions my parents could afford. This ironic interest did evolve into genuine interest, and I was one among the many people who dressed in multiple shades of pink to see the movie.

I will not go into details about every single plot piece, but I will give my personal thoughts about some characters and ideas presented and how those thoughts are influenced by my transness. The montage of Margot Robbie's Barbie first coming into the Real World and being objectified and sexually harassed for the first time reminded me of my first puberty where I would be catcalled and have grown men stare at my chest for uncomfortably long times. Funnily enough, I also kind of related with Ken's journey of discovering the 'awesomeness' of masculinity and the patriarchy. Although I never thought that patriarchy was “cool”; the feeling of exploring what it means to be a man within a very binary gendered society and the euphoria from realising what masculinity can be for someone, even if it is VERY flawed, was something I shared with Ryan Gosling's Ken.

The movie leads to Barbie evading capture from Mattel and escaping into Barbieland with the help of Gloria and her daughter Sasha; only to find out Barbieland has been converted into a Technicolor frat house by the Kens who have been disillusioned by the promises of patriarchy. They have also brainwashed the Barbies into objectified eye candy — far off from their roles as President, physicist, doctor, lawyer. Gloria (America Ferrera) saves the Barbies from the predicament by telling them about the struggles and realities of womanhood in a poignant monologue. Although the speech is somewhat similar to what can be seen on an Instagram activist's pastel aesthetic activism slideshow; it is still a powerful feminism 101 message for all to hear, especially in a world dominated by social media whose algorithms unwittingly platform right-wing bigotry.

As Barbie deprograms her friends, the Kens go through a journey in masculinity of their own; similar to my journey as a trans man. Even though Ken is in a never-ending frat party with his bros and living in toxic masculine ideals, he feels incomplete. His confrontation with Barbie leads to him realising his potential without being tied to gender norms and expectation, as he realises he can be himself without being Barbie's boyfriend or being a owner of cool stuff. I went through a similar journey exploring my own masculinity, and clung onto rigid gender norms to fend off gender dysphoria. No matter how much I avoided pink, bound my chest flat, refused to show any emotion other than anger, and shied away from “girly” interests; I was never happy as the cage of gender got smaller and smaller. Unlike Ken, I haven't completed my journey, but being able to slowly move freely and be a man defying gender expectations has been liberating. It was also refreshing to see Ncuti Gatwa's Ken shout how he misses his friend Barbie (Physicist Barbie played by Emma Mackie), emphasizing how men and women can be friends and companions without the cisheterosexual expectation of romance, which also accented Ken's acceptance of his own self without the “boyfriend” attachment.

Near the end, Barbie wishes to learn what womanhood/humanity entails as she no longer wants to be a doll. A montage of different girls and women, of all ages and races, flash across the screen as Barbie comes to realise the beauty in the mundane, in the human as Billie Eilish's What Was I Made For plays. Seeing all these girls and women, simply exist; reminded me of my childhood and the women around me even though I am a man now. I saw other trans men echo the same sentiment online, and throughout the movie we all were reminded of how trans men are adult men with traumas of little girls.

I'm not sure whether Greta Gerwig realised how her movie would end up impacting its trans viewers, as the movie still viewed gender in a fantasy world through a binary lens. Some nonbinary people have theorized how the characters of Allan and Midge might be allegory to the nonbinary experience. Midge exists as an almost forgotten character in the sidelines, and Allan does not fit in with the Kens despite being Ken's friend. He also ends up siding with the Barbies later in the movie and expressed his dislike of the hypermasculine lifestyle of the Kens. Still these are all allegories pointed at by viewers who have been robbed of representation in media. Some trans people have applauded Hari Nef's casting as Doctor Barbie, and how a trans woman can be “one of the girls” without any transphobic stereotyping attached.

The movie, despite its binarist flaws, left an impact on me. It also helped me recontextualise my masculinity and relate to my cis male friends, who sat down with me to have a lengthy conversation about the movie and our masculinities. The movie made me laugh a lot, cry a lot, and made me think about my past where I was socialized a girl and my present as a man and how both of them exist within me.

9 out of 10.