‘Barbie’ isn’t officially showing in Russia. That hasn’t stopped Barbiemania hittlng the country

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This summer’s blockbuster “Barbie” has made it to Russia despite not being officially released there due to the war in Ukraine, and it seems Barbiemania has infatuated many Russians even as the movie draws condemnation from officials.

“Barbie” distributor Warner Bros., which is owned by CNN’s parent company Warner Bros. Discovery, was among the Western studios to pull out of Russia after its full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year. Since Spring 2022, not a single movie from the company has been released in Russia

Russia’s Ministry of Culture said it hasn’t received an application to release “Barbie,” and authorities denied reports that a dubbing studio had started working on Russian voiceovers for the movie, according to state news agency TASS. When approached by CNN, Warner Bros Discovery had no further comment on the story.

While several Russian cinema networks have said they won’t be showing “Barbie” without a proper license and have stayed away from pirated copies, some smaller theaters have chosen to hold screenings of lower-quality pirated versions due to the high demand.

Nearly 90 people showed up to watch an improvised screening of the movie in the Siberian city of Tyumen earlier this month, according to state news outlet RIA Novosti. The organizers told the outlet they had found a good adapted version with proper voiceovers.

Similar screenings with Russian voiceovers have also been promised at several cinemas in the capital, Moscow.

A “Barbie House” photo zone was set to open in Moscow last week and Russian clothing brands have launched pink Barbie-themed collections.

The screenings in Tyumen were held at the open-air Gorkiy Cinema, according to a post on Russian social media.

“So, everyone wants to see Barbie, do you want an extra show? Easy! And remember that this is a screen! So lovers of 4k quality and perfect sound should wait for the digital release in November. But we found the best copy that is on the internet,” the Gorkiy Cinema message says.

In some of the comments responding to the post, people said tickets for the screenings were “sold out,” while in others, viewers complained about the “terrible unwatchable quality” of the pirated copy.

While the US, the EU and allies have imposed sanctions on goods and products since the war began, some products have been reaching Russian consumers through countries that haven’t implemented sanctions against Moscow. Some Russian consumers have been able to purchase sanctioned goods by traveling to other countries and bringing those goods back to Russia.

Barbiemania has taken over social media as well, with numerous Russian influencers and celebrities posting Barbie-related images and videos and highlighting their own Barbie-themed looks.

“Hi Barbie!” one Moscow-based influencer said to her fans, asking them which of her Barbie looks they like the most. Another said she was excited about buying a Barbie shirt, asking who would have thought “such a fierce Barbie movement would have happened.”

“Have you already guessed who this Barbie is?” asked another Russian blogger, playing with an online website to create an image of herself as a Barbie doll.

Miss Russia 2023, 32-year-old Zhanna Specialnaya, told state news outlet TASS earlier this month that she doesn’t consider herself a “Barbie,” but likes the comparison to the doll and has many pink clothes.

Despite the enthusiasm, a number of Russian officials and lawmakers have slammed the iconic doll, made by US toy manufacturer Mattel, and the movie for promoting what they consider to be morally degraded Western values.

Commentaries in state media have linked the movie and the doll to the United States’ “downhill” culture and geopolitical aims.

“And here is an overseas blonde vaguely familiar from childhood, making judgments about the role of the woman in our world,” journalist Dmitry Kosyrev wrote in a commentary.

He said that even when Hollywood tried to reach markets in Asia, “there’s trouble – in the [movie] frame, Barbie got a map of the territories of the South China Sea according to Beijing’s version, and the film was banned in Vietnam,” he said. “The main thing is that this revived doll is not interesting for Asians.”

Former spy-turned-lawmaker Maria Butina told state outlet Duma TV that images of Barbie dolls should be removed, because they promote “the LGBT theme.”

“What we see [in the Barbie movie]: gays, shemales, women who have taken over the world. There is no question of any union between a man and a woman. Our task is to promote our own images and ideas. But Barbie, along with Mattel, must be removed, because they are ‘importing’ the LGBT theme to Russia,” said Butina, who is currently a member of the Committee on International Affairs.

Even though the movie largely lampoons Barbie Land’s body standards, long-criticized as unrealistic, Butina’s position is echoed by a number of Russian officials, who maintain both the doll and the movie could have a negative influence on young girls. It’s unclear if any of those officials have even seen the movie.

“If you take the dimensions of Barbie and put them on a real person, then this is a waist of 35 centimeters, it’s very hard to imagine a girl with a waist of 35 centimeters,” said Tatyana Butskaya, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Family, Women and Children, speaking at a press conference in Moscow on the influence of toys on the child psyche.

Lawmakers from the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, have accused Barbie of promoting LGBTQ values and anorexia, while an associate professor at the Moscow State Pedagogical University claimed girls who played with Barbie don’t want to give birth because the doll has shaped their consciousness as being a symbol of an independent woman.

“Interestingly, Barbie became available to children in the 1990s. The girls who were brought up to play with this doll are now plus or minus 30 years old. Now they have somewhat different ideals,” said Moscow State Pedagogical University Associate Professor Tatyana Semenova according to Russia’s privately owned National News Service outlet.

“The priority is not the family, but a career, and maybe what was laid down in childhood is manifesting itself today.”

Russia’s ruling party, United Russia, has promised to submit a bill to the State Duma in the near future that would require children’s toys and games to be checked for compliance with the “spiritual and moral ideology of the country,” Tatyana Butskaya, First Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Family, Women and Children, told Russian outlet Izvestia this month.

That is the official verdict. Unofficially though, it remains the case that a film that has united critics and audiences overseas has touched an isolated Russia too.

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