Lebanese Minister of Culture Mohammad Mortada this week ordered authorities to prevent the screening of the new Barbie film. According to the minister, Barbie promotes homosexuality and transgenderism, harms the father’s role and undermines the mother’s role in the family. The film raises questions about the necessity of marriage as an institution and the traditional family structure.
So far there has been no criticism of the film in Israel, not even from religious Jews. The cinemas in the country are full. What does that say about Jewish values versus the Islamic ones that have a problem with the Hollywood blockbuster? Or does the Jewish origin of the popular Barbie doll anger Arab governments? Not only that: Behind Barbie stands a Jew, Tel Aviv-born Ynon Kreiz, CEO of the toy giant Mattel. Those who like to see the Jews as responsible for everything once again have their bogeyman: “The media is controlled by Jews.”
The film was also banned or initially censored in Kuwait for “promoting homosexuality and transsexuality.” Kuwait banned Barbie to protect “public ethics and social traditions” shortly after Lebanon took measures against it. A spokesman for Kuwait’s Ministry of Information told KUNA last night that the Warner Brothers film, which has grossed more than $1 billion at the global box office since its premiere, “propagates ideas and beliefs alien to Arab society and public policy.”
In the United Arab Emirates, too, there were initial problems with Barbie, and the screening of the film was only approved after a three-week delay. UAE officials gave no explanation for the delay, which was also seen in other Arab countries. The film was slated to hit theaters there yesterday, according to Vox Cinemas, a regional cinema company. “The UAE Media Council has granted approval for the Barbie film to be screened in UAE licensed cinemas after completing the necessary procedures in accordance with UAE media content standards and age ratings,” the council said last week .
Ynon Kreiz began his career in Los Angeles with Haim Saban, an Israeli billionaire and one of the largest media entrepreneurs in the world. In August 2003, Kreiz led the company to the Barbie film and even appears in it, played by Will Ferrel. “There are so many humorous and self-deprecating elements in the film,” Kreiz told Variety. “And we like that. We take our brands very seriously. We take what we do very seriously. But we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
But Barbie has Jewish roots going back much further than Kreiz’s management of Mattel. The Barbie movie alludes to the doll’s Jewish heritage. Barbie inventor Ruth Handler is played by Jewish actress Rhea Pearlman. Barbie’s feminist-Jewish background is explicitly portrayed in the film. The character of Ruth Handler, the businesswoman who invented the doll, plays a key role in the film as Barbie, played by Margot Robbie, encounters “real life” and learns to deal with it. In the deeply satirical film, directed by Greta Gerwig and her Jewish partner Noah Baumbach, the stereotypical Barbie is forced out of idyllic, woman-run Barbieland.
Much of what is shown at the cinema is not beautiful, is often inappropriate and biblically immoral, and yet we go anyway. I remember the criticism of the British Teletubbies series and the Harry Potter films. These movies were heavily criticized and demonized in the Christian world. In Israel at the time, religious and even Messianic Jews had no problem with either.
Our eyes get distracted very easily by movies and videos on our phones, where we can all watch whatever we want uncensored. I’m not at all surprised that critique against the popular Barbie doll and new feature film has erupted in the Middle East, of all places. I do not believe that the Arab world is a biblical model for us. Even if Arab governments ban or heavily criticize the American-made Barbie film in their countries, I don’t think one can derive better family values for the Jewish population from this. Everything around Barbie is Jewish and I think that’s what bothers the Arab governments. I remember Barbie and Ken from my childhood, when everything was much simpler. The dolls were also at home with us, without any theater in the family. Today, Barbie is causing a stir in the Middle East, perhaps because children didn’t play with Barbie back then.
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