On Thursday, Mattel launched a Dia de Muertos Barbie, a version of the iconic doll that celebrates the Mexican “Day of the Dead” holiday, and it was immediately the target of cultural appropriation accusations … kind of.
According to the official Barbie website:
Barbie™ celebrates Dia De Muertos with a collectible doll inspired by the time-honored holiday. Dia De Muertos is a two-day holiday in early November when families gather to celebrate the lives of their departed loved ones. This colorful and lively event is filled with music, food, sweets, offerings, and flowers. Barbie™ Dia De Muertos doll honors the traditions and symbols often seen throughout this time. Barbie™ doll’s long, ruffled, embroidered dress is embellished with heart and butterfly details. Her face is painted in a traditional skull mask, and she wears a crown with monarch butterflies and bright marigolds.
The $75 doll sold out quickly, with the website stating: “Due to high demand, we are currently sold out of this doll and are working hard to get more in stock!”
A cursory search on Twitter doesn’t bring up many accusations of cultural appropriation, however, an article by Sandra E. Garcia of The New York Times, titled: “Día de Muertos Barbie: Respectful Tribute, or ‘Obviously Cultural Appropriation’?” brings the issue to the fore.
Garcia speaks with several individuals, including Juan Carlos Aguirre, the executive director of an organization “that works to preserve and present Mexican culture in New York,” who share concerns about Dia de Muertos being exploited or there being a “loss in translation.”
That said, Garcia also speaks with the man who designed the Dia de Muertos Barbie, 34-year-old Javier Meabe, who said that he “pulled a lot of … inspiration” from his childhood visits to Mexico, and modeled the dress after those of his mother’s.
The piece even gives voice to those who do like the doll. Lil’ Libros Founder Patty Rodriguez said she thinks the Dia de Muertos Barbie is “beautiful.”
Garcia concludes by quoting Pablo A. Piccato, a professor specializing in Mexican history at Columbia University, who offers a rather nonchalant take on the doll: “It’s always been linked to an essential Mexican identity, too, although the definition of that identity has also changed over the years. … I don’t think that a new toy with a Día de Muertos theme will change things much.”
A Yahoo article also notes the supposed cries of cultural appropriation in a piece titled: “Mattel’s sold-out ‘Day of the Dead’ Barbie called ‘cultural appropriation at its worst’”
Yet another piece alleging outrage, this one from New York Daily News, is titled: “Barbie’s new Day of the Dead doll sparks cultural appropriation backlash”
Although the titles of the articles from The New York Times, Yahoo, and New York Daily News make it seem as though the concern regarding cultural appropriation is pervasive, it takes a lot of digging on social media to find people troubled with the latest Barbie:
As a Mexican, I’m definitely conflicted about the doll. Two thoughts that come up for me: 1) I need to know how much Barbie and Mattel have done to be more pro-mexican in this current socio-political climate. 2) while Mexicans come in all colors, a more brown skin doll would have been appropriate, especially because this tradition goes back to preColumbian times. Colorism is a huge problem in Mexico, so if you really wanted to make a statement a more indigenous looking doll would work.
No!Day of the dead is a religious celebration for the indigenous ppl of Mexico. It is being used by Mattel or whatever corp. owns Barbie to make $ . No one believes Ken & Barbie celebrate Day of the dead. Cultural appropriation at its worst!
Cultural Appropriation Barbie is coming out soon. Don’t worry! No proceeds will go to indigenous people that sell this kind of thing much cheaper. For only $75 you can help a multi million dollar corporation get richer!
It appears that most others on social media either don’t care, or are delighted by the Dia de Muertos Barbie (the following tweets are just a fraction of the positive reaction/backlash to accusations of “cultural appropriation” on Twitter):
We beg and plead to have actual Mexican representation in main media and when we get it people complain about cultural appropriation?! Why?!
For real c’mon. I’m Latino and I’d be super happy to see little kids of any color play with this doll, it only helps spread cool things from our culture. Give it a break with this, my guess is a bunch of white Americans are getting insulted for the rest of us.
As a Mexican, I can assure you we don’t really mind and many may actually like it.
There are always going to be people who feel aggrieved by what they perceive to be cultural appropriation – as has been seen numerous times elsewhere – but when it comes to the Dia de Muertos Barbie, the outrage seems manufactured, or at the very least, hyper-inflated.