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Netflix Is Bringing Us a Documentary About Black Barbie, and How It Changed the Game for Representation

After the meteoric success of the Barbie movie last summer, Netflix’s Black Barbie documentary comes out next month.


Photo: Courtesy Netflix

From Shondaland, the company that brought us Bridgerton and Inventing Anna, and executive produced by Shonda Rhimes herself, the documentary will explore the campaign for a Black Barbie and the journey so many women went on ensure it was made.

Looking at much more than just the impact of a doll on the world, it looks at the importance of representation in the workplace. Here’s everything you need to know.

What is Netflix’s Black Barbie documentary about?

In short, it’s about the process that three women went through while producing and releasing a Black Barbie doll at toy manufacturer Mattel back in the 1970s.

According to a Netflix synopsis, it “explores the impact of three Black women at Mattel responsible for the Black Barbie debut in 1980: Beulah Mae Mitchell [the documentary’s director, Lagueria Davis, is her niece], Kitty Black Perkins, and Stacey McBride Irby.

“Through insider interviews and charismatic retellings of what went down at Mattel in the days leading up to Black Barbie’s debut, the documentary examines the importance of true representation — and how dolls aren’t just dolls, but childhood symbols that can be crucial to identity formation and imagination.”


Photo: Courtesy Linlay Productions

Beulah’s campaign for a Black Barbie began in the early 1960s a few years after she began working at Mattel. It took 20 years for this to happen, after designer Kitty Black Perkins joined the ranks, who based the doll on Diana Ross. Next, Kitty hired doll designer Stacey McBride Irby to work on the project.

All three women, in the documentary, make clear the importance of representation not just in the world of dolls, and the impact this can have on children and who they grow up to be, but also representation in the workplace – and the change that can enact.


Photo: Courtesy Linlay Productions

The message of the documentary goes pretty wide. In fact, a Variety review says that the documentary looks at “the repressed record of Black life in the United States.” For that reason, it can at times be a hard watch. Two female interviewees reportedly break down as they share that not seeing dolls that looked like them aggravated their isolation in white-dominated spaces or fed their sense of not being seen in the world, of not feeling beautiful in a world circumscribed by the blond-haired, blue-eyed, pert figured girl of 1959.

Black Barbie release date

It will drop on Netflix on June 19.

Black Barbie trailer

There isn’t a trailer for the documentary available yet, but we will update this article as soon as one drops.

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