The recent Blockbuster Barbie film has wowed fans with its subtle (and not so subtle) tackling of some pretty heavy themes. Most obviously we see stereotypical Barbie, depicted by the talented Margot Robbie, tackling self-worth, the patriarchy, and the crushing expectations of perfection. However, we also see the characters of Weird Barbie and Alan, who have sparked conversations about LGBTQ+ representation in ‘Barbieland’ and the ‘real world’.
Greta Gerwig employs her directorial style to fill the Barbie movie with such absurdity, that it becomes clear to the viewer that EVERYONE involved is impacted by living in a patriarchy. We see POC, queer-coded characters, and even the cis-presenting men, suffering at the hands of patriarchal ideals.
Speaking of queer-coded characters, the response to Weird Barbie and Alan has been phenomenal (played by Kate McKinnon and Micheal Cera). Iconic scenes solidified the characters as fan favorites, from Weird Barbie presenting stereotypical Barbie with a high heel vs the classic Birkenstock to Alan being the only Alan in a sea of Kens.
Many TikTok users have been drawing comparisons between Weird Barbie and Alan, and the experiences of LGBTQ+ people in a society founded on patriarchy. Both Weird Barbie and Alan are presented as outsiders, and they both have to deal with the expectations of a society that they don't fit into. However, they also both find ways to express themselves and be themselves, despite the challenges they face. This has resonated with many LGBTQ+ people. Along with the fact that when Alan was originally released as a doll in 1964, there was public resistance as people thought he and Ken were a bit “too close”. One of Alan's main selling points was that he was Ken's best “buddy” and could fit into all of his clothes. Alan was discontinued in 1966.
When Ken creates ‘Kendom’, Weird Barbie and Alan are still portrayed as outsiders. While this distance from the Barbies and Kens is similar to how the two characters behaved in Barbieland, there is one very important change when in ‘Kendom’. Fear. When we see Alan fleeing Kendom with Gloria and Sasha, in an attempt to go to the real world, he asks them not to tell the Kens that he is trying to escape and explains that other Alans have done this before him. It’s clear his fear does not stem from any worry of physical overpowering from the Kens, as Alan is seen fighting a group of men (and winning with ease) as he is trying to escape. Rather it is highlighted that Alan is uncomfortable in the environment, with the Kens ruling and the Barbies brainwashed into subservience, Alan truly has no one. At least in Barbieland he felt safe to join in with the Barbies.
Similarly we see Kate McKinnon's Weird Barbie show fear towards the Kens. When an outcast group of Barbies is taking refuge in her house, they hear a noise outside (which we soon realise is the return of Gloria, Sasha, and Alan) which they assume to be the Kens finally coming to get them. Everyone panics and runs to hide, a behaviour not displayed before in the film. This self awareness by Weird Barbie and Alan, that Kendom is not a safe space to exist in as yourself, is a jarring comparison to the fear LGBTQ+ people face in the real world when dealing with the impacts of toxic masculinity. While still outcasts in Barbieland, with Weird Barbie facing some prejudice, at least they were left to be who they are in safety.
These experiences throughout the film have been commented on by viewers as relatable to those within the LGBTQ+ community. The common experience of just not quite fitting in to your assigned group, always left standing on the outskirts. One tikitok user commented “The Way Allen was there and never part of the ‘girls’ or ‘guys’ is me waiting outside the toilets for my girlfriends to come out” explaining how growing up gay he could never understand why he was looked down on by ‘Kens’ and the ‘Patriarchy’ for just wanting to be feminine and have girls for friends. But also that you never quite feel like you truly belong to either group. TikTok below:
The film also highlights that Weird Barbie's exile has a lot to do with looks. Other Barbies in the film can be interpreted as queer coded, as it has been suggested that Margots Robbies ‘Barbie’ and America Ferreras ‘Gloria’ have romantic feelings towards each other. Or at the very least it was made clear Barbie has no interest in Ken, or any of the Kens. So why would ‘Weird Barbie’ be treated differently for similar traits? Because she looks different. She has short hair, has flat feet unlike the other Barbies, and is seen wearing clashing colours in both dress and trouser form. It is highlighted that Barbie's biggest fear is becoming like Weird Barbie, to be seen to be different.
This is again a very normal experience within the LGBTQ+ community, it can be difficult to juggle wanting to be your authentic self, and worrying about whether you are perpetuating a stereotype or standing out too much. Feeling like no matter how close to your heterosexual guy or girl friends you are, there is always going to be something that sets you aside, that makes them see you as different.
However we are offered hope towards the end of the film. There is no anger throughout the film from Alan or Weird Barbie, both of them joining forces with the other Barbies to help take back Barbieland. And they are seen celebrating with the Barbies afterwards. Weird Barbie even gets an apology, with president Barbie saying she is sorry they called her weird and offering her a job on her cabinet. Unfortunately, this is more of an ending than Alan gets. When president Barbie is giving her speech to the Mattel CEO she says “no Barbie or Ken should be living in the shadows” the camera then flicks to see Alan quietly add “...or Alan”. Sweet Alan, forgotten again.
While the film provided an interesting commentary on LGBTQ+ experiences and raised some awareness in the mainstream media, it didn’t present viewers with a neat solution or ‘happy ending’. Both characters are seen safe in Barbieland and Weird Barbie gets her wish of working in sanitation, but we are offered no reassurance that things for them will actually change. This is particularly clear for Alan. Will they ever truly feel accepted? Is there even a neat and tidy solution to this struggle felt by LGBTQ+ people in the real world? Well, we will just have to wait and see. The open end to the story may actually be a good thing, leaving the door wide open for a sequel or spin-off with Kate McKinnon and Micheal Cera's characters at the center. We can dream!
But for now, thank you Weird Barbie and Alan, for making us feel seen.