She has been a princess, a president, a Marine Corps sergeant, an astronaut and a Star Wars stormtrooper. In Mexico for the Day of the Dead festival, Barbie is even a skeleton.
Yet while fans of the iconic doll see it as an homage to the country’s rich tradition, critics say it is little more than cultural appropriation.
Mattel has launched the second Barbie based on “Catrina,” a skeletal representation of death created by cartoonist Jose Guadalupe Posada that is a symbol of one of Mexico’s most important festivals.
The US toymaker says the doll “honors the traditions, symbols and rituals” of the Day of the Dead, which is celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2.
However, some in Mexico see the Barbie — which has a price tag of about US$72 — as just another example of big brands cashing in on the nation’s heritage.
“The cultural, hereditary and symbolic importance that this holiday has for Mexico opens up in the eyes of the market opportunities that are exploited by these firms,” sociologist Roberto Alvarez said.
The Day of the Dead “should be a solemn subject,” but it has become a commercial event in the US since featuring in movies such as Coco, the computer-animated fantasy released by Disney’s Pixar studio in 2017, Alvarez said.
Fans of the iconic doll see “Catrina” Barbie — which bears certain similarities to renowned painter Frida Kahlo — as a respectful tribute.
“It means that they take notice of our traditions,” said Zoila Muntane, a 54-year-old artist and doll collector who has 2,000 Barbies.
Fellow fan Carlos Sandoval said the doll represents “a very beautiful tradition, like few others in the world.”
This year, Barbie wears a blush-colored lace dress and a crown of skeleton hands holding roses and marigolds, unlike the first Day of the Dead edition last year, which was dressed in black.
Its creator, Mexican-American designer Javier Meabe, said that he sought to “create more awareness about the celebration,” which UNESCO in 2003 named an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
The festival is believed to be when the gateway separating the living and the deceased opens, allowing people to pay their respects to those who have passed.
Librada Moreno, a sociologist and academic at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, sees the Barbie as a “cultural hybrid” and product of migration to the US, home to 37 million people with Mexican ancestry.
More than 1 billion Barbies have been sold globally since the US brand’s launch 60 years ago.
An earlier Barbie inspired by Kahlo was not sold in Mexico because her family considered its image at odds with that of the late artist.
Mattel is not the only US brand launching products linked to the Mexican festival: There is also a “Catrina” Minnie Mouse and a Nike Day of the Dead collection.
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