Barbie Keeps Working on the 'Dream Gap' With Empowerment Film for Young Black Girls
To celebrate Women's History Month, Barbie has partnered with the Black woman-led empowerment group Milk Honey Bees, and British radio and TV presenter Clara Amfo, to give us "Limitless Potential," a clarion call of possibility for young girls.
Directed by Eloise King with production company Prettybird, the upbeat film begins with Amfo and Milk Honey Bees founder Ebinehita Iyere summoning help from young girls in turning doubts about them into opportunities to demonstrate what they can do. The cast is composed entirely of young Black girls—playing instruments, painting, directing films, and engaging in one of our earliest initiations in science, the fabled volcano project.
"You're not alone," Amfo says with an encouraging smile. "When things get difficult, let us be the voice inside your head." To which the girls shout, "You can do it!", "I am smart!" and "You can be anything!"
"There is so much power in being able to see yourself reflected positively in the world as an adult, and it's even more potent as a child. That power, and the confidence that comes with it, should only be protected and amplified," says Amfo.
Research has shown that, from age 5 onward, girls begin developing limiting self-beliefs, a challenge called the "Dream Gap"—something Mattel's Barbie brand devoted itself to addressing in 2018. For Black girls, this gap is even wider, and the resulting negative self-perception can ripple through the rest of their lives.
Media representation—in terms of role models, kids who resemble you, and affirmations of wider support—challenge those beliefs, in part by confronting norms about what our mainstream looks like, how we depict BIPOC individuals and kids, and what we can expect from them.
"Our work has always been about ensuring that Black girls feel seen and heard, and with Clara Amfo and Barbie, we were able to do that," Iyere says. "This has and will always be about supporting girls to raise their voices and celebrate their limitless potential."
"Limitless Potential" went live on International Women's Day and is part of Barbie's 2021 "Raise Your Voice" campaign, whose mission is to show girls that they can be anything. While Barbie has always been about girls being able to "do anything" (consider the many professions Barbie has held over the years), we've been especially impressed by how Mattel has broadened that remit over the years.
How it signals this appears in ways large and small—like how all the dolls in this ad are Black, but not monolithically so. They appear in different shades, with different hairstyles and looks, but they are also not the stars of the show. That role rightfully belongs to the girls, Isis, Riley-Ann, Kenedy, Adunni and Bailey, who were cast by Looks Like Me agency, founded by Selma Nicholls, an arts and media leader whose firm is devoted to sourcing underrepresented groups in arts, fashion and advertising.
In summer of last year, Mattel also released a new campaign-trail Barbie, centering on a Black presidential candidate.
But the original Barbie—you know, the blonde—doesn't shy away from doing her part, either. Late last year, following the Black Lives Matter uprisings, Barbie Vlogs released a video explaining racism and addressing white privilege head-on. Listening to, and supporting the experiences of, her Black friend Nikki was critical to the video's format.
"My whole philosophy of Barbie was that through the doll, the little girl could be anything she wanted to be. Barbie always represented the fact that a woman has choices," said Ruth Handler, who created Barbie in 1959. (This is itself a pretty weird story. But that Barbie has transitioned from its relation to an adult sexual gag gift, to an icon that inspires young girls to think differently about what is possible for women in a patriarchy, is pretty cool.)
"Limitless Potential" follows Mattel's announcement of Amfo as a Role Model, which includes the creation of a doll in her image. And alongside Milk Honey Bees, Barbie will support a community creative writing program, culminating in a "Raise Your Voice" anthology.
"Clara is a beautiful role model," says King, the filmmaker. "In creating this piece for Barbie, I responded to Clara's joyful energy, the important community work of Milk Honey Bees, and ethos of Barbie's 'Raise Your Voice' campaign, to amplify the essence and voices of five incredible Black girls whose talents, personalities and confidence shine in their own unique ways. My film centers joy and play, to encourage all girls to harness their limitless potential."
Limitless Potential with Clara Amfo and Milk Honey Bees x Barbie
PR Account Director: Scarlett Ward
Barbie UK Senior Brand Manager: Natasha Erlandson
Client: Milk Honey Bees
Young Director: Kenedy McCallam-Martin
Dancer: Riley-Ann Nicholls Murphy
Scientist: Adunni Durosinmi-Etti
Musician: Isis Caletti
Artist: Bailey Walters-Lawrence
Production Company: Prettybird
Co-Founder UK/ Exec Producer: Juliette Larthe
Director and Creative: Eloise King
Writer: Laura Kirwan-Ashman
Head of New Business: Mia Powell
Producer: Paulette Caletti
Production Manager: Benji Landman
Production: Yazz Anderson-Moore
1st Assistant Director: Steven Olugbenga Eniraiyetan
2nd AD Jason Osborne
Director of Photography: Joel Honeywell
Stylist: Leah Abbott
Hair Stylist: Isaac Poleon
Hair Stylist Assistant: Tyeesha Taylor-Scott
MUA: Sogol Razi
Art Direction: Joseph Bond
Art Direction: Jade Adeyemi
Location Manager: Bart O Sullivan
1st AC: Hopi Demattio
2nd AC James Malamatinas
Sound Recordist: John Thorpe
Gaffer: Bernie Prentice
Electrician: Mike Casserly
Camera Trainee: James Groves
DIT: Mark Koslowski
Art Department Assistant: Sasa Thompson
Casting: Selma Nicholls
Founder & Casting Director
Looks Like Me Casting
Editor: Anne Perri
Music: Asriel Hayes accompanied by Madison Dorsett and Henry Gross
Edit Assistant: Miles Watson
Edit Producer: Ben Tomlin
Editors: Work Editorial
Head of Color: Luke Morrison
Post Producer: Oliver Whitworth, Claudia Carmichael
Online Editor & Post House: Electric Theatre Collective
Sound Designer: Chad Raymond