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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Generations of Barbie fans wear pink for Gainesville early screening

Barbie mania left the swamp awash in a sea of pink technicolor

About 145 patrons, donned in pinks from neons to pastels, trotted toward a life-sized doll box display sprawled in the corner of a Gainesville theater and waited for their turn to pose playfully while channeling their plastic inspiration.

The Barbie Blowout Party took place at the Regal Celebration Pointe 10 & RPX theater July 19. The Gainesville theater was one of the select theaters to host a celebration for the early screening. Staff set up the display weeks prior for guests to take photos commemorating Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie.”

Margot Robbie, lead actress and producer of the movie, plays a stereotypical Barbie doll while her co-star Ryan Gosling plays a blond and ab-adorned Ken whose job is “just beach.” 

John Cena’s and Dua Lipa’s notable cameos in the film also generated excitement from online audiences prior to the film’s premiere.

Amber Cabassa, a 26-year-old attendee, and her fiancee Sara Carlton, a 25-year-old attendee, anticipated the occasion for a long time and had been waiting for the film for four years, Cabassa said.

Both women played with Barbies as children. Cabassa fondly recalled having officiated secret, lesbian weddings for her Barbies. Carlton’s own childhood Barbies, however, often met grimmer fates.

“My dogs would always get my Barbies and rip one of the arms off,” Carlton said. “I would have to make up stories, like, ‘Oh she got into an accident.’”

The couple recalled enjoying the straight-to-video animated Barbie films from the early 2000s. Among their favorites were “Barbie as Rapunzel” and “Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper,” Cabassa said. 

“Barbie is inherently such a queer icon, for both gay men and lesbians,” she said. “She's all about embracing femininity and owning your womanhood and being who you are.”

Large groups and families with eager little girls tottered into the theater with matching custom-made Barbie shirts.

One family secured their tickets about a month in advance. Kelsi Wirick, a 32-year-old Gainesville resident, said despite planning ahead, they missed out on good seats. The family settled for the third row from the screen, Wirick said.

As a child, Wirick was a tomboy and hated the color pink. But now, pink is her personality for the month, she said. 

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In addition to the matching pink shirt, Lylah Wirick, a 9-year-old Barbie lover, wore Birkenstocks, a running motif in the film to represent the real world. Like the characters in the film, she also plays with Barbies with her sister, she said.

Older generations of Barbie fans were just as invested in the film’s early showing. Paula Brown, a 60-year-old Barbie fanatic, was among the enthused. 

For Brown, Gerwig’s “Barbie” was a long-overdue ode to an iconic figure. It was about time Barbie got the Hollywood treatment, she said.

Brown’s 60-year-old friend Lynn Anderson accompanied her. Together, they celebrated the screening by repping the doll from head to toe. Despite being decked out in Barbie-themed Hot Topic merchandise, they still had more accessories on backorder, Brown said. 

The duo loves Barbie, and the idea of seeing the movie before everybody else excited her, Brown said. 

The doll conjured memories of giddy childhood nostalgia when Brown used to play with Barbies as a little girl herself, she said.

“I had the RV camper and the Corvette and all the clothes,” Brown said. “My mom used to make my Barbie clothes too. It was too cool.”

Brown’s 29-year-old twin daughters inherited her connection to Barbie. The nostalgia for the doll spans many generations, she said. Brown described her family as “big Barbie girls.”

Brown shared her plan to drive to Ocala for another opening screening of the film and dress up, she said. 

The attendees at the premiere proved the power of Barbie extends past age and gender. One attendee, Steve Beck was born in 1950 before the inception of the Barbie brand, making him older than the doll himself. Beck worked as a toy inventor for Mattel, parent company of Barbie.

Beck spoke of Barbie with authority. He’s credited for inventing a variety of games spanning from the late ‘70s to the early 2000s. 

Barbie has come a long way since her origin as a novelty adult toy for men’s bachelor parties, Beck said.

Addressing the onslaught of marketing and promotional material for the live-action adaptation, Beck predicted the movie would gross a minimum of $100 million in domestic box office opening weekend alone, becoming the biggest box office of any movie in 2023. 

There’s going to be a Barbie renaissance, Beck said. 

As of July 23, the movie has grossed $155 million just in its domestic opening weekend, according to Box Office Mojo.

The film’s success can be attributed to the fantastical yet comedic tone of its story.

“It’s also tongue-in-cheek,” Beck said. “They’re making fun of her but they’re also honoring her.” Gerwig’s “Barbie” is meta and self-referential. Mattel itself is personified in the film by executive bigwigs and nameless men in suits, with Will Ferrell at the helm.

Despite having worked for Mattel, Beck found humor in the film’s portrayal of the company. The brand is smart for embracing its self-effacing rendition and showing a willingness to make fun of itself, he said. 

The film has inspired a resurrection of the doll’s cultural relevance and for Mattel as a brand. He recently bought a doll himself, indulging in the Barbie zeitgeist. Some folks, however, have owned dolls since their youth, Beck said.

Barbara Hassan, a 72-year-old “Barbie” moviegoer, got her first Barbie doll in 1963 when she was 12. That Barbie has bridged decades and has been a model for many girls, she said.

“Now my great nieces have dozens of Barbie dolls,” Hassan said. “Interestingly enough, these young kids, they don’t put the clothes on her.” 

For many, the strength of the doll lies in its ability to inspire girls to envision themselves with limitless potential. 

“Women can become anything they want to be,” she said. “That’s always been the message.” 

Two hours after the screening, the pink frenzy streamed out of the theater. Patrons emotionally exclaimed how good the film was, some already making plans to watch it again.

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Valentina Sarmiento

Valentina Sarmiento is a UF journalism senior with a specialization in photojournalism. She is an Avenue staff writer for The Alligator. Aside from storytelling, she enjoys binging horror movies, cats and the occult.

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