The standard Barbie—slim, white, and often seen as unrealistic—defined the childhoods of many Black girls. However, the upcoming documentary “Black Barbie,” set to release on June 19, delves into the transformative journey of the iconic doll. The film highlights the significance of creating a doll that truly represents Black women, featuring insights from Kitty Black Perkins, the first Black Barbie designer, Stacey McBride-Irby, another influential designer, Beulah Mae Mitchell, a former Mattel employee, and more.

Black dolls were being created, but they were not Barbie dolls and did not closely represent a Black woman’s features or style. It was imperative that Mattel began producing Black Barbies that looked just as good as the original Barbie. Kitty Black Perkins was the blueprint, she left her mark on the industry by making this come to fruition with the official debut of Black Barbie in 1980.

“I would have loved to have had a Black Barbie when I was growing up, but of course, it didn’t exist. So being the person that actually designed it, the feeling is just absolutely wonderful,” said Perkins. “I had a terrific team of people to help me with the doll. She portrays everything that I think a Black woman should. She has a short natural hairstyle, a wider nose, fuller lips, a shapelier body, and fabulous fashion.”

The documentary portrays how prior to the emergence of Black Barbie, Black women and girls felt like they did not have a doll they could identify with. It sparked a sense of insecurity seeing white dolls because they did not feel they could relate, given that the original Barbie was what society deemed as beautiful. Designer Stacey McBride-Irby aimed to leave a positive mark and shift the negative connotations by creating Black Barbie dolls.

“Having a daughter who was seven years old at the time, I definitely looked to my community and some of her friends, and I wanted to give her a positive message behind the dolls,” said McBride-Irby. “I didn’t want her to just play with dolls. I wanted her to see herself in a positive light.”

The documentary is set up to allow the audience to see and learn about the entire timeline from the start of the first Barbie doll, Black Barbie, and the creation of others. McBride-Irby left her mark by creating the first Black AKA dolls and discussed what paralleled her creation of the So In Style dolls. Most of the dolls that were created held a historical presence. She recognized the cultural relevance of the times, noting the election of the first Black president and Disney’s introduction of Princess Tiana, emphasizing the importance of Mattel staying abreast of societal changes and representing Black culture.

“We needed to set a standard here so that we’re not forgetting about our culture,” said McBride-Irby. “I first created three of the characters and then, with marketing and back and forth with our Mattel African-American Forum at the time, we came up with the big sister mentoring her little sister, which is how So In Style came about SIS, the acronym.”

Black Barbies are now being used as collectibles and hold a special place in the hearts of many Black women and young girls. They not only look more like Black women but also contribute to a sense of camaraderie that shows Black women are beautiful and can be Barbies too. The documentary showcases multiple women reflecting on how it truly felt to receive their first Black Barbie dolls, underscoring the importance of having representation in the market.

Photo Credit: Netflix