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‘Barbie’ director wants viewers to ‘feel like I did at Shabbat dinner’

Though raised Unitarian Universalist, Greta Gerwig recalls being included in blessings by fathers of Jewish friends at Shabbat dinners

Writer/director/executive producer Greta Gerwig poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film "Barbie," in London, United Kingdom, July 12, 2023. (Scott Garfitt/Invision/AP)
Writer/director/executive producer Greta Gerwig poses for photographers upon arrival at the premiere of the film "Barbie," in London, United Kingdom, July 12, 2023. (Scott Garfitt/Invision/AP)

JTA — Barbie the doll has a deep Jewish history. Now, the creator of “Barbie” the movie hopes watching the film will also evoke a deep Jewish experience.

Greta Gerwig, who conceived and directed the buzzy live-action film released this month, told The New York Times that she hopes watching the movie will be a quasi-spiritual activity for its viewers. The feeling she wants to achieve, she said, is the same one she felt as a child when she was a guest at the Shabbat dinners of close family friends who were observant Jews.

At those dinners, she recalled, the father would include Gerwig as he blessed the children, a traditional element of Shabbat ritual. (Gerwig’s own family was Unitarian Universalist and she attended a Catholic high school, a period of her life that inspired her 2017 film “Lady Bird.”)

“I remember feeling the sense of, ‘Whatever your wins and losses were for the week, whatever you did or you didn’t do when you come to this table, your value has nothing to do with that,’” Gerwig told The New York Times of the Shabbat dinners.

“I remember feeling so safe in that and feeling so, like, enough,” she said. “I want people to feel like I did at Shabbat dinner. … I want them to get blessed.”

Gerwig is winning acclaim for transforming Barbie from a stagnant symbol of capitalism and women’s oppression into a canvas for exploring self-discovery, through an accidental jaunt from the toy world into the real one. The movie’s lead writer, Noah Baumbach, is Gerwig’s Jewish partner and co-parent. Its stars include Jewish actress Rhea Perlman as the doll’s real-life Jewish creator, Ruth Handler.

The movie is the first for Mattel, the toy company Handler and her husband grew into an empire. Mattel has always closely guarded the Barbie brand, but under the leadership of the Israeli-American Ynon Kreiz, who has served as its CEO since 2018, it is loosening the reins.

The company has embarked on more than 100 brand partnerships in conjunction with the movie, including with the Israeli ice cream chain Golda, that are expected to generate billions of dollars in revenue. Other toy-spinoff movies are in the works.

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