In recent years, China’s box office has been dominated by homegrown movies often with a nationalist lean, such as patriotic war epics. But this weekend, a different type of film captured national attention – one that’s decidedly American and bubblegum pink.
“Barbie” has earned close to 86 million yuan (about $11.9 million) in China since its release on Friday, according to Chinese ticket selling platform Maoyan – putting it in third place in all movies nationwide.
While that figure is small compared to the runaway success of “Barbie” in the United States – it raked in $155 million domestically over the weekend – it could still grow as social media discussion about the movie picks up momentum. On Saturday, it was briefly the top trending topic on China’s Twitter-like platform Weibo, garnering more than 630 million views.
“Barbie” was distributed by Warner Bros., owned by CNN’s parent company Warner Bros. Discovery.
On Douban, a popular Chinese movie review site, the movie is currently scored 8.6 out of 10, with nearly half of all viewers giving it full marks. The comment section, too, includes glowing praise for the movie’s themes of womanhood and feminism, and its deft handling by director Greta Gerwig, also known for “Lady Bird” and “Little Women.”
Several reviewers called the film a breath of fresh air, comparing it to some Chinese movies still rife with outdated gender roles and the skewed male gaze.
“You know, Chinese women don’t get many chances to see a high-quality, female-focused movie in the cinema,” read one comment with more than 20,000 likes.
Another top comment compared “Barbie” to another recent Chinese release, “Lost in the Stars,” which had previously received criticism for its portrayal of gender stereotypes. “Lost in the Stars” showed “fake feminism under the male gaze,” while “Barbie” represents “feminism from the diverse perspectives of real female directors,” the comment read, with more than 18,000 likes.
Others reflected on the realities Chinese women face, with one remarking dryly that unlike the US, China doesn’t even pretend not to be a patriarchy.
However, some also accused “Barbie” of only performing surface-level feminism, pointing out that the titular character’s doll-perfect figure could further perpetuate existing beauty norms. “There isn’t any new thinking about feminism, the movie is just an expression of old thoughts,” one person wrote on Douban.
Feminist movements in China have faced numerous setbacks over the years due to censorship and an ongoing crackdown on activism. But it has also remained resilient; a number of #MeToo related controversies and sexual assault allegations have triggered waves of heated online debate, with women and supporters decrying China’s entrenched gender inequality and patriarchal society.