Mattel came under fire this weekend for the Dia de Muertos Barbie doll, with critics accusing the toy brand of cultural appropriation and commercializing what is meant to be a somber holiday in Mexico. Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated during the first two days of November and a time when Mexicans honor deceased loved ones. The 2020 Dia de Muertos Barbie features a lace gown and faces pained in "Calavera" (skull) style, often used during the holiday. It retailed for $75.99 and is now sold out.
Gloria Gonzalez-Lopez, a sociology professor at the University of Texas at Austin, doubts Mattel has a "genuine interest" in Mexican culture. "It's more an interest in making money," Gonzalez-Lopez, who is a Mexican immigrant, told CNN. "Who is this doll going to? Is it the Mexican worker who cleans homes? Are they identifying themselves with Barbie?" He later noted that the Day of the Dead has been "secularized through pop culture, and then it found a market in this country."
Sociologist Roberto Alvarez echoed Gonzalez-Lopez's criticisms in an interview with Agence France-Presse last week, noting the Day of the Dead "should be a solemn subject." He noted it had become seen as a commercial event since Disney and Pixar released Coco in 2017. "The cultural, hereditary, and symbolic importance that this holiday has for Mexico opens up in the eyes of the market opportunities that are exploited by these firms," Alvarez said.
Mattel announced the 2020 Dia de Meurtos Barbie in September. Some on social media asked if the Mexican community would receive any proceeds from the doll's sales. The company, which also released a Dia de Meurtos Barbie in 2019, said Mexican-American artist Javie Meabe designed the doll.
From the delicate lace embroidered dress, to the captivating calavera face paint, the #Barbie Día de Muertos doll pays tribute to the customs of families around the world.https://t.co/xHEXkYiPJa pic.twitter.com/lQiQXiaKSl— Barbie (@Barbie) September 2, 2020
"As a Mexican American Designer, it was important to me to use my creative voice to design a doll that celebrates the bright colors and vivid textures of my culture, as well, as have the traditions I grew up with represented and celebrated in Barbie," Meabe said in a statement to CNN. "For this doll, I was inspired by the color gold seen throughout Mexican culture, jewelry, buildings, statues, and artwork and highlighted it throughout the design."
U.S. companies have been accused of profiting off Dia de Muertos, a tradition that goes back 3,000 years, in the past. In 2013, Disney tried to trademark the holiday's name in the U.S. while Pixar worked on Coco. The plan drew swift condemnation, and Disney retracted the patent request.