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Amid Barbie‘s historic run at the box office, a different type of campaign surrounding the iconic doll is making waves this week.
Actress Daryl Hannah starred in a video released on Tuesday where she announced that by 2030, all Mattel toys will be plastic-free, starting with Barbie being made from all compostable materials. To celebrate the environmental commitment, Hannah also said Mattel would release a limited edition line of “EcoWarrior” Barbies, featuring herself and climate activists like Greta Thunberg. Several news organizations reported on the announcement, which was quickly revealed to be a prank by activist groups Barbie Liberation Organization and Yes Men — as Mattel confirmed the video, along with accompanying press releases and advertisements, were indeed fake.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter on the day after the viral hoax, Hannah said the idea came together when she agreed to take part in a documentary on the Barbie Liberation Organization, which in 1993 pranked consumers by switching the voice boxes of Teen Talk Barbies and G.I. Joe action figures, then secretly repackaging them to be sold to unsuspecting shoppers as a comment on gender stereotypes. While working on the doc, they decided that with renewed interest in the Barbie world ahead of Greta Gerwig’s film, this would be the ideal time for another joke.
The Barbie Liberation Organization crosses over with members of Yes Men, an activist group that raises awareness for social and political issues through elaborate hoaxes and spoofs. While brainstorming on the next prank with the two groups, Hannah remembered a time she had gone snorkeling in a remote part of the ocean and found a Barbie doll stuck in the coral “that must have been, for at least decades, stuck in there because it was covered with pink and green barnacles and its hair was green seaweed,” she says; that story now serves as the opening of the “Plastic-Free Barbie” video. The team took that concept and combined it with a 2004 hoax on the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal chemical disaster in India, when the Yes Men acted as Dow Chemical Company spokesmen taking responsibility for the tragedy, promising to underwrite medical care for the affected families, which renewed media and public interest in the catastrophe.
“I think this was a smaller version [of that], but it’s a similar situation. You have a toy industry, which is a multi, multi-billion dollar industry,” Hannah says, adding that Mattel must be making substantial revenue on the Barbie movie alone. “They have the resources and the means to be able to not continue making toxic trash as toys for children. Ninety percent of the toys that are made by the toy industry are plastic and 80 percent of those end up in landfills — which means they don’t just end up in landfills, they end up in the coral or they end up in the ocean or they end up breaking down into microplastics and they end up in our bodies.”
With Barbie (and Ken) very much in the zeitgeist right now and leading conversations about feminism, Hannah also says it’s time to look at the physical doll itself.
“She’s going through this big metamorphosis, this character rejuvenation. Why not go through a real rejuvenation?” the actress questions. “They’re saying, Barbie, she was so superficial before — she’s still fucking superficial because she’s made out of toxic plastic. They can say Barbie is a feminist — she’s a fucking toxic feminist. She’s literally toxic.”
Calling out Mattel, she continues, “Take your evolution into the new era, into the modern day, to where it really should be, which is not just a character makeover but a real makeover — and not just like a curvy Barbie, but a Barbie that’s not made out of toxic shit.”
Hannah says she’s also not surprised that people were genuinely tricked by the announcement, and in the aftermath saw her social media fill up with commenters who were thrilled believing that the compostable dolls were real. She also pushes back against people who say the pranks encourage the spread of misinformation, noting, “It’s a satire, it’s a joke, but a serious joke, a joke that has a point.”
“We’re not interested in trying to create a fake news story that lives on; we want people to know that there was a reason behind what we’re saying, that we’re trying to point something out and to also try and get Mattel to see the wild, enthusiastic response from people when they heard this,” she says. “To get a little bit of that so that they feel the support that they would have if they did take this step, because there’s nobody who would say, ‘That’s a bad idea, why would you do that?'”
Mattel does point to its current sustainability initiatives, which include a goal to achieve 100 percent recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastic materials in products and packaging by 2030. Hannah, however, comments that plastic recycling rates are very poor, and “the plastic recycling is not where it needs to be for it to be [an] actual solution,” so plastic should be cut out entirely — something companies like Lego are starting to experiment with.
“People aren’t aching to have plastic toys, they just want toys,” Hannah adds. “We’ve got a problem, we have a massive, massive waste problem. It is part of what’s killing us, and we have to deal with it. Toys are certainly a wonderful thing, but definitely something that should be wonderful all the way through, not something that should be poisonous and killing us.”
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