In case you missed it, a Barbie doll in the likeness of director Ava DuVernay (of Selma fame) has been flying across the web. Earlier this year Mattel created and launched a line of six new Barbie dolls (honoring real women leaders for their contributions to society) in partnership with Variety’s Power of Women Luncheon. The dolls were to be produced in limited amounts for charity. On Monday, December 7th, the Ava doll was released and quickly sold out, within just its first hour. Proceeds from the doll went to The Color of Change and WITNESS.
This move by Mattel to create a series of women “Sheroes” is no doubt a good one, but what’s most interesting about this story is how immediate demand for the doll reveals a need for consistent representation of women and girls of color—whether that’s in children’s toys or books or the media we absorb as young people and adults. Ava DuVernay’s well-deserved celebrity and leadership in film is far from the only reason the doll sold out; as a nation, millions of people—not just women and not just girls of color—are hungry for images and media that represent the world we actually live in. Businesses would be wise to follow consumers’ lead here, not the other way around. As Yesha Callahan writes for The Root:
“How often is a doll made in the likeness of a great black filmmaker on the market? How about never. The fact that DuVernay’s doll sold out within minutes of its release is a testament to the fact that representation matters. People want to see dolls in their image and in the image of those people they admire. If Mattel wants to continue to make an impact, someone in its R&D department better start doling out ideas about how to jump on this.”
Mattel is working on creating more Ava DuVernay dolls. But the immediate and overwhelming response to its release is also an important reminder of the incredible power we hold in our hands as women consumers. We can choose to buy products that represent the world we live in and buy from companies that truly support women and girls (see Buy Up Index for help finding these companies). And it’s also a reminder of the power we have as media distributors in our own right as women do the most social media sharing. What a wonderful thing to remember and celebrate as we go into the holiday shopping season.