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Mattel criticized for its Tokyo 2020 Olympics Barbie collection for lack of Asian representation

By PINKY S. ICAMEN Published Aug 11, 2021 5:27 pm

Social media users called out the company for not having an Asian doll in its new collection, even though the games were held in an Asian country.

In February 2020, Mattel, the maker of Barbie, announced its collaboration with the International Olympic Committee and Tokyo 2020.

The collaboration was meant to “highlight inclusivity and innovation” with toys that reflect the five new sports that were added to the Olympic program in Tokyo—baseball/softball, sport climbing, karate, skateboarding, and surfing.

Mattel repromoted its new line of dolls, which coincided with the staging of the pandemic-delayed Olympics. It said in a tweet, “Barbie is committed to empowering girls to participate in sports by capturing the fun and friendship of the season, and inspiring kids to find the athlete within.”

Many were quick to note that there was no Asian in the line of dolls, despite the fact that the games were held in Japan.

“According to Mattel you can do anything but Asian if you want to be included. The Olympics is literally happening in Asia. An Asian country has the most gold medals. An Asian American won gold in one of the biggest and most popular event. Talk about tone deaf. Do much better,” a certain Allen Chan called out the company on Twitter.

Softball, surfing, and sport climbing are among the sports highlighted in Barbie's Tokyo 2020 Olympics collection. Photo from www.mattel.com

Some also pointed out that athletes who are Asian or of Asian descent have excelled in this year's Olympics, including Hmong-American gymnast Sunisa Lee, the first Asian American gold medalist in gymnastics individual all-around; and Filipino-American fencer Lee Kiefer, the first Asian American to win a fencing gold. (And of course, Hidilyn Diaz, the first ever gold medalist of the Philippines.)

Others went as far as calling the move “racist.”

“So disappointing that by trying to be inclusive, you exclude almost 60% of the world’s population as well as that of the host country. Many of the top female athletes in the Olympics are Asian. This was not an oversight but blatant racism,” a Twitter user said.

Amid the backlash, Mattel released a statement, admitting it “fell short” on Asian representation with its new line of dolls.

The company cleared the air, saying the skateboarder Barbie in the line was intended to “represent the Asian community” but the company “fell short" and it "fully receive and fully recognize the feedback."

The skateboarder doll was meant to 'represent the Asian community,' according to Mattel. Photo from www.mattel.com

Mattel added in its statement, “Moving forward, we will work to find more ways to champion all representation and celebrate amazing achievements of all Olympic athletes, who are showing us that anything is possible.”

Prior to the games, Mattel released a doll in the likeness of tennis superstar Naomi Osaka for its Barbie Role Model campaign.

And in the past, the company has pushed inclusivity in its line of Barbies, including gender-neutral dolls, Mattel also released last year a line of Barbie dolls with no hair, prosthetic limb and vitiligo (a disease that causes loss of skin color in patches).

Recently, Mattel honored six frontline workers, including Filipino-American Dr. Audrey Sue Cruz, who was among those who fought against Asian hate that continues to rise in the US during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Banner and thumbnail photos from www.mattel.com