The Desecration of the Modern Female Protagonist

Voice of a Generation

One of the great things about movies is not only are they a great escape from everyday life, but they can teach us important lessons about how we live those lives. Movies have the unique ability to inspire and move us. The lessons they teach us have influenced entire generations of people to do more than they ever dreams they could achieve. They can act like a set of moral scales that help to keep us balanced and leveled.

Once upon a time, this is what movies once meant to me.

However, when it comes to modern movies I can’t help but notice that the moral scale is tipping in the wrong direction by trying to frame negative actions, decisions and messages in a positive light. Movies once taught us lessons about the value of friendship and loyalty, the dangers of pride and arrogance, the importance of compassion and charity and the meaning of determination and resilience. Now, movies don’t teach us anything.

I was excited for Barbie (2023) when it was announced, especially when it was revealed that Margot Robbie would be portraying the iconic doll. For this film, I decided against watching any of the trailers. I have gotten burnt too many times by watching trailers only to be disappointed by the finished product and for this movie, I wanted to go in blind.

I should’ve known that a movie could still be just as unexceptional when going in blind.

When news broke that the movie broke one billion dollars at the box office, I had hope. I’m not somebody who has a complete lack of faith when it comes to modern movies, as I feel that there are still a few things being made today that are capable of filling a void. That’s not to say that I was expecting Barbie (2023) be the next Iron Man (2008) that would completely revolutionize the industry, but I still had hope that this movie could possibly be considered good.

Anymore, one has to wonder if the Hollywood “Blockbuster” continues to exist.

Crisis of Conscience

It’s no secret that identity plays an important role in storytelling.

What movies have been able to do over the past one hundred years is give that art form a place where it has been able to shine the most. If there is one thing that movies provide for us, it’s that they help to give us a sense of who we are. We watch movies for one simple reason: because we want to learn about ourselves and the best way to go about doing that is when the characters who appear on screen, content with their journey and the struggles that they are going through and are able to act as a mirror that reflects back at us.

However, today’s protagonist isn’t only a character who is unrelatable but one that fails to be looked up to as any type of role model. Instead of their motivations being something that which would act for the betterment of the humankind, they’re actions are usually greedy and selfish. Instead of using their words to speak honesty and truth, their vocabulary is usually filled with sarcasm and snark. Instead of their journey having some kind of moral of moral or ethical dilemma that they can learn from, their story usually ends with very little in the way of what can be considered to be consequential.

Margot Robbie plays “Totally Generic” Barbie, which might seem a little unremarkable at first, but there is a deeper layer to this that I feel is much more appropriate. Another way to look at the term “generic” would be “original”, and another way to look at “original” would be “one of a kind”. There is no harm in feeling as if you are the most boring person on the planet, what matters is being able to completely and totally embrace who you are.

Storytelling is much more effective when we are able to relate to the protagonist and great protagonists are those who are unapologetically themselves. Thing is, Barbie wasn’t even being herself and that can mostly get chalked up to the fact that the writer’s didn’t have a clue as who she was or what they wanted her to be. With the inclusion of so many other Barbies running around, the original has nowhere else to go but to became less than the sum of her parts.

Beauty in a Bottle

As loved as Barbie has become over the decades since her creation, she also gets criticized for setting unrealistic expectations for women — and for good reason. With her gorgeous long blonde hair, beautiful baby blue eyes with a pencil thin waist and legs that go on and on for days. It’s not difficult to imagine where in which the problem lies.

Years ago, Mattel was set to release a different version of Barbie. Amy Schumer, who was originally going to play the character and Diablo Cody, who was set to write the script, have both recently came out in support of Margot Robbie’s success while also giving some insight as to how and why their version of Barbie didn’t come to be. To sum it up: the version of Barbie that they wanted to make didn’t line up with what Mattel wanted from the property. In recent interviews, they insisted on blaming society for not yet being at a place where the ‘bimbo’ architype could not only be embraced but also be considered it to have its own place within feminism.

At one point in the movie, America Ferrera‘s character goes on a long spiel about what women are expected to do and how to behave in society versus who and what they actually are. This feels less like the writers are trying to portray this message in a way that  and it just comes off as preachy. Instead of subverting the stereotypes of how women have been portrayed in cinema over the decades the movie chooses to lean into them in a way that seems to only reinforce the reason why women, (and female protagonists in general), are still failing to be taken seriously.

Considering how long the Barbie movie has been in development, you’d think they would’ve been able to come up with a more realistic scenario to emphasize this story beat because Mattel is not breaking stereotypes by casting one of the most gorgeous women to have ever lived if this was the message that they wanted to get across.

Perhaps Barbie does reinforce negative body image issues, but it’s also important to remember the Barbie is a toy and all Mattel cares about is selling said toy. Nothing more nothing less. Regardless of how much of a male fantasy that she appears to represent, it’s important to remember that it was a woman who was responsible for her designed.


Now, we have come to the worst character in the entire film: Ken. Much like the female architype, it’s no secret that the traditional male role model in modern cinema is also currently going through a bit of an identity crisis.

Long gone are the days when we would see a John McClain (Bruce Willis), Rocky or Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) or whatever character Arnold Schwarzenegger is playing that month. Sure, we still have a few kicking around such as John Wick (Keanu Reeves), Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) or whatever character The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) is playing that month. The fact of the matter is, the legend of the 1980’s action star has become exactly that: a legend.

Just like Barbie, Ken has absolutely no identity of his own. Ken is just Ken.

His sense of self worth steams from three things: body image, comparing himself to others and whatever uninspired accessory that he chooses to associate himself with. Oh, there’s also his bleach blonde hair, his six pack of abs, his surf board, his complete lack of self awareness … need I continue? Ken is the perfect example of a culture that is obsessed with trying to impress other people with material possessions instead focusing on the one thing that could actually give him what he is so desperately craving: a sense of self worth.

As Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) once said; “Sticking feathers up your butt does not make you a chicken”.

Yes. Ken is just Ken, and if you asked him what he meant by that I’m sure he would be incapable of providing you with an answer. Why? Because without all of these bells and whistles, there is nothing remarkable about him. Of course, this isn’t the first time that the toxicity that the male architype represents has come into question. It’s just that Hollywood has no interest in reinventing how men are being portrayed in modern cinema, which is why we have ended up with a character such as Ken, a character that nobody should idolize.

Let’s Go Party

Now, don’t get me wrong, there were a few things that I did enjoy about this movie. Not only do I feel that there is there a much different movie within this script, but there is also a much better story that could’ve been told with these characters. For example, let’s take Barbie’s existential crisis. This was a good idea.

Good characters don’t just ask the tough questions, they ask the questions that don’t have an answer.

Who am I, where am I going and what am I supposed to be doing?

When Barbie abruptly blurts out whether or not anybody else thinks about dying, this is where the movie forms its hind legs. It’s only after we come to the realization that there is more to life than what we have been led to believe. Barbie sets out on a journey to find the meaning of life that leads to Mattel only to discover that she is not real, but something manufactured to bring other people happiness. These circumstances would inevitably free her mind where she can truly find herself in the real world.

“There has to be more out there … isn’t there?”

Yes, Barbara. There is a whole world out there that you have yet to experience and there is so much more to life than the little fantasy bubble that you trap yourself within. However, instead of leaning into the concept of self-actualization, it becomes all about how men keep women down and tearing down the patriarchy. We could be given characters who are filled with wisdom and insight but if all else fails; go for the cheap laugh.

Lazy. Dull. Vapid. Whatever you want to call it; that’s what this movie is.

The biggest problem with Barbie (2023) is that much of this movie was too silly for its own good. There is a story to be told with these characters, but the one that was delivered was not the one that we deserved. It felt less like it was blazing a trail of its own and trying to be more of a parody of what has come before. However, at the same time, it didn’t quite seem to understand what it wanted to say nor did it know what it wanted to be a parody of.

It’s only clever if it’s satire … and it’s only satire, if it’s clever.

Maybe one day soon we’ll once again be given characters who will be able to act as reflections of ourselves which we can learn and grow from. Characters who will help us question our identity on a deep down, profound spiritual level. Characters who will be able to provide some sort of enlightenment who will not only make us question our place in the universe but will also help guide us on a quest of self-discovery that will help us find who we are.

Until then, we’re just going to have to settle for underdogs who are truly unexceptional.