Clients: LinLay Productions – Financier; Grace Lay – Executive Producer
Netflix and Shondaland have acquired worldwide rights to “Black Barbie,” a documentary that dives into the history of the first Black Barbie doll — which debuted in 1980, 31 years after the original Barbie — and three Black women at Mattel who advocated for the toy.
Directed by Lagueria Davis, “Black Barbie” debuted at this year’s SXSW and the cut of the film was met with widespread acclaim. Now, Shonda Rhimes and Betsy Beers have signed on to the team of executive producers as part of Shondaland’s overall deal with Netflix.
“Telling Black Barbie’s story has been such a personal journey and it warms my heart to celebrate the legacy of my aunt Beulah Mae Mitchell, Kitty Black Perkins and Stacey McBride Irby in our film,” Davis said in a statement announcing the acquisition. “We couldn’t have asked for better collaborators than Shondaland and Netflix to bring this story to the world.”
Davis’s personal tie to the material is the entry point to the documentary, which chronicles the Black Barbie’s journey and cultural impact. According the logline, the film examines “the importance of representation and how dolls can be crucial to the formation of identity and imagination” through the stories of Mattel insiders, consumers, cultural commentators and historians.
The “Black Barbie” documentary comes amid the Barbie boom, as Greta Gerwig and Margot Robbie’s live-action movie filled theaters to the tune of $1.4 billion and counting. The box office blockbuster featured a multicultural cast, but its greatest commonality with the documentary is acknowledging that not everybody loves Barbie. In fact, early in “Black Barbie,” Davis states ”I hate dolls.”
“With its deeply amusing re-creations of actual Barbie dolls sauntering into white spaces or sitting at the end of a conference room table (the only BIDOC — Black, indigenous doll of color, so to speak), the movie can be wryly playful. … But there is pain, here, too,” film critic Lisa Kennedy wrote in her Variety review, teasing the complexity of Davis’ narrative as it explores the doll brand’s relationship to diversity and inclusion and parallels to the larger society.
Writer-director Davis also produced the film for Lovely Day Films alongside Aaliyah Williams for Just A Rebel. In addition to Rhimes and Beers, executive producers include LinLay Productions’ Grace Lay and Sumalee Montano; Lady & Bird Films’ Camilla Hall; Milan Chakraborty; and Jyoti Sarda.