Russian film enthusiasts are defying official warnings and flocking to bootleg screenings of the Hollywood blockbuster Barbie, a film that has sparked controversy in Russia due to its alleged misalignment with President Vladimir Putin’s vision for preserving Russian values. Despite Western sanctions imposed after the Ukraine invasion, pirate versions of the Greta Gerwig-directed film, featuring stars like Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, are finding their way into Russian cinemas.
In an attempt to bypass licensing issues, some theaters have cleverly sold tickets for Russian-made short films, offering Barbie as a ‘free preview.’ This surreptitious approach has allowed fans to indulge in their love for the iconic Mattel doll without officially endorsing the movie. Reports from Moscow revealed a unique screening experience, complete with a giant fuchsia-colored house, matching furniture, popcorn, and life-size cardboard cutouts of Barbie and Ken. The clandestine nature of these screenings has created a buzz, with attendees reveling in their ability to choose what they watch.
Critics argue that the demand for unofficial screenings reflects the sentiments of Russians who oppose the ongoing war. Anton Dolin, a prominent film critic who fled Russia due to threats from pro-war ultranationalists, believes that watching Hollywood movies is viewed as a fundamental right by many Russians. Despite Hollywood’s boycott of Russia, these unofficial screenings serve as a reminder of the privileges that were once taken for granted.
However, not everyone is thrilled about the Barbie screenings. Russian MP Maria Butina expressed her concerns about the film, particularly its impact on young girls. She criticized the Barbie doll’s portrayal, stating that it promotes unrealistic body standards and can lead to body image issues among teenagers. Butina emphasized that the film has not been officially licensed for screening in Russia, urging cinemas to comply with the law and avoid unauthorized showings.
The underground screenings of Barbie remain shrouded in secrecy. With no official marketing or advertising, information about these events spreads through social media and word of mouth. Despite the risks, some daring individuals have taken matters into their own hands. One audacious teenager in the city of Perm invested significant resources, spending over $3,000 to obtain a pirate copy of the film, hire a Russian dubbing company, and orchestrate a marketing campaign. This entrepreneurial spirit led to a successful test run, where a 50-strong audience enthusiastically embraced the clandestine Barbie screening.
In the face of official warnings and legal uncertainties, Russian film enthusiasts continue to embrace their passion for Barbie, defying the odds to experience the Hollywood blockbuster on their own terms. These underground screenings serve as a testament to the resilience and determination of cinema lovers who refuse to be deterred, even in the face of political and legal challenges.