The new Barbie movie, which premiered on July 21, 2023, made $155 million on opening weekend. But the movie has not come without controversy, primarily through critiques from select Republicans.
Both left- and right-rated sources showed clear bias on whether they agree with conservative critiques of the film.
- Minimized Ginger Gaetz’s criticism by emphasizing that she appeared to be enjoying the film party
- Used sensationalism, omission, and slant to make Republican concerns about the South China Sea map seem unfounded
- Omitted and de-emphasized Warner Bros’ response to Ted Cruz’s criticism
- Tended to focus substantially more on criticism of the film than prise, showing bias by viewpoint placement
Initially, there was some backlash to the movie from the right in response to the casting of a trans actor as one of the barbies in the movie. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) defended his choice to attend the Barbie premiere at the British embassy with his wife on Twitter, saying, “If you let the trans stop you from seeing Margo Robbie……the terrorists win…..”
After viewing Barbie, however, his wife Ginger Gaetz discouraged people from going to see it. “Thinking about watching the Barbie movie? I'd recommend sticking to getting outfit inspiration and skipping the theater. Here's why: The Barbie I grew up with was a representation of limitless possibilities, embracing diverse careers and feminine empowerment. The 2023 Barbie movie, unfortunately, neglects to address any notion of faith or family, and tries to normalize the idea that men and women can't collaborate positively (yuck),” she tweeted. In a later interview with Steve Bannon she said,“I think the movie should be boycotted.”
Meanwhile, Ted Cruz (R-TX) has been speaking out about the film in a geopolitical context. In Barbie, there is a crayon-drawn map in which the South China Sea has a dashed line on it, reminiscent of the “nine-dashed line” used by China to claim authority over the area (notably, the Barbie map’s line only has eight dashes and is not the only dashed line visible). That ownership is disputed by neighboring countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines.
As a result of the map, Vietnam has banned the film, and Cruz claims that the film is “kissing up to the Chinese Communist Party.” Eurasia Group president Ian Bremmer agreed the map was an attempt to appease Chinese censors, as did Rep. Mike Gallager (R-WI).
In response, a Warner Bros. spokesperson told Variety (Lean Left bias), “The map in Barbie Land is a child-like crayon drawing,” adding, “The doodles depict Barbie’s make-believe journey from Barbie Land to the ‘real world.’ It was not intended to make any type of statement.”
The Washington Examiner (Lean Right) published the headline, “Matt Gaetz defends watching Barbie movie over concerns on film's transgender actor,” choosing to focus more on Matt Gaetz’s comments rather than his wife’s call to boycott the film.
Newsmax (Right) also covered Ginger Gaetz’s criticism of the film. Only one line of the article mentioned a defense of the film: “While some have praised the script that moves away from Barbie as a figure based on her looks, others have slammed it as promoting a ‘woke’ and ‘feminist’ agenda.” This omits a specific source, not specifying who exactly is praising the film, and include sensationalism by saying others “slammed” the film.
Newsmax does, directly after that sentence, provide a link to a Newsweek article with a specific critic — Charlie Kirk — and a direct quote from him saying the film is "trans propaganda that is in this hyper-feminine, ultra pink propaganda thing, but it's really been taken over by the "trans mafia." Overall, the article gives much more space to criticism of the film and less than a sentence on its praise, resulting in bias by viewpoint placement.
The Daily Mail (Right) also showed bias by viewpoint placement. The Mail’s article about Ginger Gaetz’s call for a boycott briefly touched on Cruz’s critiques before spending nearly half of the article covering two other film critics who wrote unfavorable reviews of the movie in the Daily Mail. The Mail only included praise of the film in the very last paragraphs of the article.
Ted Cruz and the South China Sea Map
Townhall (Right) spent the first three quarters of an article on Barbie quoting Cruz. Far down in the piece, paragraph nine (of 11), it provided Warner Bros' response that the map “was not intended to make any type of statement.”
Following the Warner Bros’ response, Townhall wrote, “But Cruz isn't the only Republican calling out the film for including the Chinese propaganda.” The word choice “but” and “the Chinese propaganda” implies to the reader that Townhall agrees with the Republicans and disagrees with Warner Bros. It also states an opinion -– that the map was indeed Chinese propaganda -– as a fact. Quoting Cruz four times and Rep. Gallager once on the map, compared to quoting the Warner Bros only once, also shows bias by viewpoint placement.
Outlets on the left tended to paint Ginger Gaetz and other Republicans' concerns as unwarranted or silly.
The Independent juxtaposed Ginger Gaetz’s appearance with her critique of the film. The headline was: “Matt Gaetz’s wife calls for Barbie boycott while posting photos of her posing in pink on red carpet,” calling her “decked out” and saying “she beamed inside a Barbie doll box.” Framing the article about Ginger Gaetz’s criticism of the film with descriptors about how she appeared to be enjoying herself and emphasizing her enjoyment before her criticism, which is supposed to be the crux of the news story, displays slant by portraying her as hypocritical.
Insider took a similarly slanted approach with the headline “Matt and Ginger Gaetz channeled MAGA Barbie and Ken on the pink carpet, but she didn't like the movie because of Ryan Gosling's 'beta energy.'’” By first mentioning the Gaetzs’ outfits, and then the criticism, Insider downplays its critique.
Ted Cruz and the South China Sea Map
Insider, in its coverage of Cruz, used subjective qualifying adjectives in the headline, which read, “Ted Cruz is getting really worked up about the 'Barbie' movie and accusing it of feeding young girls 'Chinese communist propaganda’” (emphasis ours).
Not only is the headline subjective, but “accusing it of feeding young girls ‘Chinese communist propaganda’” is misleading. While Cruz did call the film Chinese communist propaganda, Insider omitted a quote in which Cruz said, “Obviously the little girls that are going to see Barbie, none of them are gonna have any idea what those dashes mean. This is really designed for the eyes of the Chinese censors.” It’s possible that this context was omitted to make Cruz’s claims seem more absurd or unbelievable.
Insider also used several sensationalist terms, saying (emphasis ours) “Ted Cruz slammed the Barbie Movie” and “The Texas lawmaker this weekend ripped the movie.”
USA Today (Lean Left) displayed slant in its article as well, framing Republican lawmakers as “targeting” the movie and “lashing out.” The article also spoke more tentatively about the map, saying, “Some critics have said [the map] resembles the ‘nine-dash line,’” whereas other outlets either quoted Cruz or said it was the nine-dash line. It quotes Warner Bros’ defense of the film in the third paragraph and implied agreement with Warner Bros by following it with, “but that hasn’t stopped Republican lawmakers from criticizing.”
The Independent framed Cruz’s claims as unfounded from the get-go with the headline: “Cruz keeps attacking the Barbie movie as ‘Chinese communist propaganda’ even though he hasn’t seen it.” The framing displays slant against Cruz.
The quote placement, headline writing, and overall slant of the articles on the left and right were clearly affected by whether the outlet tended to agree or disagree with the claims being made about the film.
In a world where everything has become politicized — even the Barbie movie — don’t let sensational news dull your excitement. If you’re so inclined, go see Barbie (or Oppenheimer if that's more your speed), and draw your own conclusions.
Clare Ashcraft (Center) is the Bridging and Bias Assistant at AllSides.