Barbie film a hit with young women after first screenings in the UAE

The film has struck a chord with women who celebrate its themes of self-discovery

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One of this year’s most highly anticipated films was released across the UAE on Thursday – and people are loving it.

Barbie, starring Margot Robbie as the world’s most famous doll, and Ryan Gosling as Ken, has dominated the global box office and has already made history for director Greta Gerwig as the first female director to direct a billion-dollar movie.

Vox Cinema at Mall of the Emirates was filled with Barbie enthusiasts, dressed for the part in as much pink as possible, to catch the first screenings in the country.

And while the movie goers were lining up for sessions or leaving the theatre were of different backgrounds, all seemed excited by the promise and the aftermath of the first cinematic Barbie experience.

“The Barbie movie is bigger than Barbie, a lot bigger than barbie,” Annapurna Nair, a recent Dubai high school graduate, tells The National.

“The movie is about Barbie but you realise that it's not always about her. When I watched the trailer I underestimated the movie. I thought it would be a typical Barbie movie.

“But now, after seeing it, my views have completely changed. They put a lot of effort into changing stereotypes.”

Jhil Mehtar, another high school graduate, agrees and felt the film also reflected many young people’s rites of passage out of adolescence and into adulthood.

“The Barbie perspective, the Barbie world in the movie is basically how we think as kids,” Nair says.

“When Barbie goes to the real world, it’s the same as when we enter adulthood. We hear about the real world but we haven’t experienced it yet. It’s going to be like stepping out of the Barbie world.”

The film, which was also co-written by Gerwig, begins with Barbie, who appears to have a perfect life, until she experiences an existential crisis and questions the world around her. The story then follows her and Ken as they set off into the real world on an adventure as Barbie attempts to discover herself and her place in the world.

This theme of self-discovery struck a chord with many other young women who watched the film.

“This movie exactly what we needed right now,” Rhea R, a Dubai resident, says.

“Just seeing people speak their truth and the overall message was just beautiful. It’s everything we could wish for all in one movie. Even though we had to wait for so long, it was definitely worth it.”

Barbie was initially scheduled for a global release on July 20, but after the film was approved for screening by the UAE Media Council, the release date was changed to August 31 and then brought forward to August 10.

While Barbie explores ideas about being more than the label the world places on you, law students Kirti Bhardwaj and Devi Shukla point out that the film did a great job at using humour to highlight these points without preaching to audiences.

“I was actually really surprised by the story,” Bhardwaj says.

“The meaning behind the movie and the plot … it didn't feel like they were shoving it in your face but it still got the point across in a really fun way.”

Shukla agrees, saying: “It was silly, goofy, but it was also like it had a good meaning behind it.

“It was like playing with Barbies as kids. Everything felt very nostalgic and really good to watch and experience.”

The friends, who are studying in the UK, also agree that it was a happy surprise to see how the film depicted a diverse and fleshed-out set of characters who are, in essence, meant to be dolls.

“When they were doing the Barbie montage, you could see a Barbie with the hijab on and that was really good inclusivity,” Shukla adds.

“Not a lot of women in the Middle East feel represented [in mainstream culture] so it was cool to see more modest characters and people who are representing this region.”

The Muslim Barbie in the film that Shukla refers to is played by model and digital creator Aminah Ali. She is one of three Muslim women who were cast in the film, the others being model Khadeejah Khan and life coach and social media personality Fatumina Said Akbar.

Bhardwaj adds that Robbie was perfectly cast for the role as someone who fits the aesthetic ideas of Barbie “perfection” while also acting in a universally relatable way, reaffirming the many pressures and stereotypes women face.

“I was so happy during the movie that I cried. It was a full on blast because it encapsulated what being a woman feels like,” she says.

“Margot Robbie was so perfect for Barbie. She played up to the Barbie thing but also showed how we all have insecurities and all the subtleties of being a woman.”

Updated: August 11, 2023, 6:10 AM