The internet, a world wide web of information, ideas, stories, and often times, outrage. Twitter, with its 140 character limit, is a great place to share a fleeting thought, tell a quick joke, or make a witty remark. The character limit helps prevent people from rambling on, but it also tends to lead to a lot of misunderstandings, because key information is sometimes left out.
"Are they being sarcastic?"
"Are they serious?"
"Are they making a joke?"
One person can read your tweet and totally get your intention, while someone else can read that same tweet and take it totally the wrong way. Today I got a small taste of the best of what social media can do, and also experienced some of the unfortunate negativity that runs rampant across the weird wide web. I sent out what was intended to be a 100% positive tweet about the fact that Mattel had a "Film Director" Barbie doll in stores, and that they named it the "career of the year" for Barbie. I tagged a few people on the tweet who I thought might be interested in this, including actress Jessica Chastain, an outspoken champion for women's rights in Hollywood. She retweeted it to her 144,000+ followers, and my phone's notifications immediately began to blow up.
Now it may seem a little odd for a grown man with no children of his own to be wandering down the Barbie aisle in the first place, but I have two young nieces who live 2,000 miles away, so my wife and I often send care packages in order to stay in contact. I am a huge movie buff, plus a card carrying feminist (just kidding, we don't really have cards), so I got excited when I saw the most famous doll in history teaching young girls about film directing, and encouraging them to become directors themselves. What a perfect gift!
Here are the full pictures from the tweet:
Overall, most people seemed to get my intention, and they in turn shared the tweet with their followers. As I write this, the tweet has been viewed close to 100,000 times, with several thousand engagements and a few hundred retweets and favorites. I certainly didn't break the internet or anything, like a Kardashian or Justin Bieber might, but the message traveled a good distance to say the least.
I followed up the initial tweet almost immediately, implying that the Hollywood establishment should follow Mattel's lead and do more to promote filmmaking as a career option for girls and women.
I also added that I was planning on buying the doll for my nieces for Christmas, both the original doll in the picture, plus the African-American Film Director doll.
A strong advocate for women's rights in the entertainment industry, Sasha Stone (founder and editor of AwardsDaily.com) added "Probably the only way a woman COULD get to direct in Hollywood".
I then tweeted about one of my biggest frustrations when it comes to the lack of female directors in Hollywood, the stereotype that women only direct, or only SHOULD direct, Romantic comedies. I pointed out that Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling), Wayne's World (Penelope Spheeris), American Psycho (Mary Harron), and the Best Picture Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker (Kathryn Bigelow) were all directed by women, and none of them can remotely be considered a sweet, gentile Rom-Com.
Almost immediately after Jessica Chastain's retweet the replies started pouring in, some of which I'll share here. Most of them were incredibly positive and encouraging, showing just how many girls and women out there are craving this sort of validation that their dreams of working in the entertainment industry matter. This was my intention, and I am glad that so many people responded positively to this message.
Elizabeth Banks (Pitch Perfect 2) came to many people's mind, as she has recently turned her successful acting career into a blossoming career as a director:
This tweet from Sinead O Hara might be my favorite reply of the whole day, and the one that gives me the most hope for the future:
This one about hover boards made me laugh the most:
Film Independent, the L.A.-based organization that puts on the annual Independent Spirit Awards the day before the Oscars, also replied that they wanted one of the Barbies. Their organization does a great job supporting diversity in filmmaking, including a strong emphasis on supporting female producers, writers, directors and executives in the independent film world. For more information check out filmindependent.org
A few hours after the initial tweet went out I thanked Jessica Chastain for her retweet and noted that 10,000 people an hour were viewing the tweet, and that Hollywood execs should take note that this message was connecting with people:
One dad asked if he should buy these Barbies for his daughters. I said yes, or better yet he should buy them a video camera so they could start their way down the path to being a director one day, if age appropriate:
There were a fair share of people who were not entirely convinced that a Film Director Barbie was a good thing, many pointing out that Barbie dolls may lead to negative body images in little girls, which is an entirely valid point:
Some people who only saw the initial tweet also assumed that the doll only came with white skin and blonde hair, which I tried to point out was incorrect:
This is where I start to get kind of annoyed. You can't please everyone all the time, I get that, but I felt the positive meaning behind the tweet was so obvious that it really bummed me out that people have to start nitpicking the message.
Terms like "white feminism" are all the rage right now, where people imply that somehow if a white woman or man speaks out about feminism, they must also have a hidden racist agenda, where women of color are excluded. These are the people who jumped all over Patricia Arquette when she called for equal pay for women during her Oscar speech last year. These are the same people attacking Meryl Streep and the film Suffragette. Patricia Arquette and Meryl Streep are on your side! Don't you get that?! White, Blonde Film Director Barbie is on your side too! It is important that diversity of all kinds is supported, whether it be women's rights, minority rights, gay and transgender rights, whatever, they are all important. But it is not going to happen all at once. Change will come a lot sooner if the people fighting for the same cause stop breaking into factions and stand by each other instead of attacking each other.
Lexi Alexander, director of the films Green Street Hooligans and Punisher: War Zone, was brought up by many people as well, as she is a well known critic of the way Hollywood treats females, specifically women of color. She often makes very valid points, and never holds back her opinion, even when she probably knows it hurts her chances of landing a job. A lot of the time I agree with the points she makes, but it also feels like sometimes she just wants to fight. Often times she acts as if the entire world is out to get her, and a victory is not a victory unless it is a complete victory. There is no bargaining, it is all or nothing. Small victories are not worthy of celebration, and only the complete annihilation of the enemy will suffice.
My opinion of Lexi Alexander is not based on these few replies, which are more snarky than actually rude, but rather the way she acts on Twitter in general. I've never met her in person, nor have I had a face to face conversation with her, so I have no idea what she is like in the real world. Like I said previously, I think she makes a lot of valid points about the sorry state of the female director in Hollywood. She is incredibly brave to put her name on the line in order to attempt to get the needed changes made. In the end though, I just don't see the point in alienating so many people that are trying to be on her side in the first place.
This is my main complaint about "internet outrage" in general. A Barbie doll promoting female directors should be hailed as a good thing, even a great thing, if you believe that we need to have more female voices in the entertainment industry. The people complaining about a white Film Director Barbie, or a skinny Film Director Barbie, or a blonde Film Director Barbie are missing the point: When the most recognizable toy for girls in the world says it is cool to be a film director, that is a message that should be praised.
When McDonald's introduced apple slices to the kids menu as an alternative to french fries, that was a good thing. Should kids be eating at McDonald's? Probably not. If they are going to eat at McDonald's though, shouldn't we be glad they have the option to eat Apples now?
I get it, I'm a white male, so me hollering about women's rights or minority rights comes off as disingenuous to some people. I also grew up as a short, chubby, freckled, redhead, so I know what it is like to be ridiculed and prejudiced against based on attributes that don't define who I am as a person. The teasing I faced as a child gave me a strong desire to work for social justice and provided me with a wellspring of empathy for those who are discriminated against.
As a loving uncle to two beautiful young girls, I can't wait to give them a Barbie doll that says look, YOU TOO CAN MAKE MOVIES! I will not apologize for that, because I know their mother, my sister, will have the appropriate talk with them about body image, which I will reiterate. I will also keep fighting the good fight not with, but rather alongside Jessica Chastain, Sasha Stone, Elizabeth Banks, Lexi Alexander, Patricia Arquette and Meryl Streep, so in the future my nieces will have a chance to make movies if they so choose.
So that is my two cents on that. Overall, I'm just glad most people were as excited as I was that young girls now have a chance to play with Film Director Barbie. If you want to get one for yourself, here are links to Mattel's website: