The Runaway Success of the Ava DuVernay Barbie (& Why It’s So Important)

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This is about as close I (and many) will be getting to this doll….

Earlier this year when Mattel launched their Sheroes one-off doll series, made to celebrate Variety Magazine’s Power of Women Luncheon honorees, a lot of buzz was generated around the inclusion of filmmaker Ava DuVernay (director of indie gem Middle of Nowhere and 2014’s critically-acclaimed but awards overlooked Selma).  Along with Trisha Yearwood, Sydney “Mayhem” Keiser, Emmy Rossum, Kristin Chenoweth and Eva Chen, the dolls were created to raise money for various charities.

When word got out about the dolls and Ms DuVernay’s likeness being captured in particular, consumers took to social media, demanding that the doll be made available for public purchase. Well, fast forward almost eight months later and a sign that Mattel heard the roar of the masses – yesterday the company announced that the doll would be available for sale on Monday (today) through their website: barbiecollection.com, with the proceeds going to charity.

Well here on the East Coast, Monday has come and nearly gone and well, so has the Ava DuVernay Barbie doll. After a prompt from my college roommate, I slunk away and attempted to pre-order first on the aforementioned Barbie website and then on Amazon.com, only to get shunted on both counts. I investigated and the doll was, in fact, completely sold out. And I could not be happier.

Although sales have declined in recent years, for many women my age (high, low and in-between), Barbie is a well-remembered part of our childhood.  For better or worse, Barbie did symbolize a sort of rite of passage for me anyway. That said, among the chief complaints about the dolls concerns their fetishization, exaggeration and misrepresentation of the female form and the product line’s lack of diversity.

As someone who has collected select Barbie dolls over the years, I generally follow the development of new lines and dolls as they come in. To their credit, it seems that Mattel has attempted to address some of these criticisms, all in an effort to keep up with the times, and by consequence, keep its place on shelves in doll sections around the world.

Enter Ava DuVernay. Flush off the success of Selma and with rumors swirling about her involvement in a Marvel MCU franchise (Black Panther), her profile has surely been raised in 2015. But neither Mattel nor I could have predicted that the demand would be so great. But what does this mean?

Simply stated – Representation Matters.  Of course there are those professional collectors who see this most limited of editions as a gold mine – but they have always been here and will continue to seize any new opportunity. However I suspect a larger portion of those who laid down their $65.00 today are people like me and my friend, women of color who are over the moon to see a creative powerhouse like DuVernay getting her just due and consider getting the doll as a way of celebrating her accomplishments and showing our support. We also recognize and understand how much of an inspiration she can be for young girls who will now know who she is and hopefully see a new world of possibilities open up to them.

Mattel and Barbie have been moving forward and made it their mission to expand Barbie’s world and imbue her with the traits and characteristics that will serve to inspire girls who play with the dolls to someday aim high.

This is an excellent step in that direction.

 

 

Selma (2014), directed by Ava DuVernay

I guess it would make sense that I FINALLY post my review of Selma as MLK Day 2015 comes to an end here on the East Coast. I have thought quite a lot about this film – things that I really liked about and things that lead to many conversations with family, friends and colleagues concerning my thoughts.

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In so many ways, Selma was going to be an ambitious cinematic endeavor. Not only because it is a rare big screen treatment of Martin Luther King, Jr., but it is also dealing with subjects and topics that goes to the very heart of America’s continued struggle to see its way through the problematic aspects of its history. Add to this that in order to make a dynamic, complex story, one must also blend some on-the-ground (read interpersonal) conflict and interaction in the mix, so the audience is not left feeling that they are merely being lectured about the events surrounding the Selma to Montgomery (Alabama) voting rights marches.

Overall, I found Selma a well-executed production, elevated by the central performances, notably that of David Oyelowo as the civil rights icon.

The task at hand for director Ava DuVernay is a tricky one: on one hand, she has to take some of the pivotal events of the Civil Rights movement and intersperse them with the personal narrative of the people involved in these events.

As it related to the prior, maybe because I feel so close to the historical facts, felt a little “Basil Exposition-y” to me.  Maybe I was more intrigued and engaged by the more interpersonal vs. historic because my parents did such a great job (kudos) of telling my siblings and me this part of American history, as they had lived through and experienced it themselves. So not to say that the history was unimportant or uninteresting to me, but rather, it was oft-trodden ground for me.

But as I have discovered for others, the telling of this story was very necessary. Not entirely a forgotten chapter in our collective memories, I have experienced many folks are not completely aware of the specifics, especially the politics of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Act, Selma is clearly a story which needs to be told and in this case, seen. All was not entirely lost for me in the respect, however – the insertion of “based on actual persons” in the drama really did a good job of tying the micro (personal) with the macro (social/political/historical events). They may not have been on screen for a significant period of time, their impact was immediately felt and lasted for the duration of the film.

And yes, I know that there has been some targeted dispute over some of the facts as portrayed in the film, but let me say this in this regard – folks, use it as a learning moment. The internet is free and largely open – the information is there for all to digest and take note of.

As for the person-to-person dynamics I mentioned previously, again, I point to the strength of the performances being convincing and not totally apart from the overarching narrative.

All of this could not have been possible with the stewardship of director and (uncredited) writer Ava DuVernay. In addition to creating rounded characters and not merely cardboard cutouts of historical and “based-on” historical figures, DuVernay also adorned the film with some really visually evocative set pieces that show really place her skills as a storyteller on full display.

So my recommendation is, awards recognition or not, this is a film to be experienced and discussed.

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