Issa Rae recalls how Barbies informed her understanding of race and sex

Ahead of the “Barbie” movie, Issa Rae divulges how playing with Barbie dolls in childhood impacted her as a storyteller.

Long before she was cast as “President Barbie” in the upcoming “Barbie” film by Greta Gerwig, Issa Rae was telling stories through the doll. 

Ahead of the “Barbie” movie release on July 21, writer, producer, and actress Issa Rae and her co-stars in the upcoming film sat down with People to discuss Barbie’s real-life impact. In the interview, Rae spoke candidly about what she gained from the doll during childhood play.

“My Barbies were fulfilling scenarios,” she told People. 

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Issa Rae attends the “Barbie” Celebration Party at the Museum of Contemporary Art on June 30, 2023, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Hanna Lassen/Getty Images)

More explicitly, Rae explained her Barbies were, among other things, an early way to experiment with intimacy. 

“They were also like sex-ed when I didn’t know what sex was,” she said. “As a kid, I just wanted to play and tell stories and make them kiss,” Rae remembers. “They were my opportunity to play God — Barbies were the Sims for me before I played the Sims.” 

Though Barbies were an early source of creativity for the future creator and producer, Rae told the publication she was aware of the “stigma associated with Barbie.” Specifically, what Barbie does, and, for many years, did not represent in terms of womanhood, femininity, sexuality, and race.  

“I felt like there was a lot of pressure, image-wise, playing with white Barbie dolls and my parents making sure I had Black Barbie dolls so I felt represented,” Rae said. “Barbies made me aware of race at a young age.”

Since its inception in 1959, Barbie has inspired considerable conversation around beauty standards, womanhood, girlhood, sexuality, fashion, race, and more. 

“There was so much held on Barbie’s shoulders,” Rae noted.

Fans will see Rae’s childhood storytelling come full circle in the highly anticipated film. She told People she devised her role alongside director Greta Gerwig. 

“Greta picked my brain, [asking]: ‘If this were the child version of you, how would she dress her President Barbie? How would her President Barbie act?’” Rae said. 

The answer, according to Rae, “is who my childhood version of a President would be. I think that she commands a lot of respect.”

She added it is ultimately up to the “Barbie” movie’s audiences to decide. 

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