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Unleashing the Power of Representation: Filipino Culture Takes the Spotlight in Barbie

Ana Cruz Kayne: Filipino Representation in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie

Written by: Gladys Bayani Heitzman

The all-pink, women-made, women-led summer hit Barbie, premiered in theaters this past weekend and continues to dominate box-office rankings. The film has been praised for its diverse representation and inclusive cast, but one Barbie stuck out to me in particular.

Did you notice her?

Ana Cruz Kayne, a Filipino-Jewish-American actress, was depicted in the film representing Filipino heritage, playing the role of Supreme Court Justice Barbie. She even worked with the Barbie costume designer to incorporate a traditional-Filipiniana outfit specifically for her character. Additionally, she stayed committed to embracing her heritage, wearing Filipiniana looks to all the red carpet premieres that she attended.

Ana Cruz Kayne spoke about her role in Barbie, saying that the intention was to represent people who hold “two cultures very richly in their lives and because they don’t present one physically, they don't get to claim it but it's actually unique to them and a big part of their background.”

Even though Cruz Kayne is a side character and easy to miss if you are not already aware of her role and actively looking for her, this decision and intention really made me feel acknowledged, empowered, and represented. As a Filipino-American, in my personal experience, it’s really rare to find media content that actually represents those of us who are, in a peculiar way, culturally or ethnically confused. Sino Ako? It’s a difficult question, I don’t know who I am. But the Filipino-American identity is hard to define, there are so many factors that come into play and there is no single or homogenous experience: It’s something you have to explore and discover for yourself. But on those rare occasions that you do see someone that looks like you, understands you, or shares cultural similarities with you—it makes all the difference on your road to self-discovery.

And the fact that Cruz Kayne plays Supreme Court Justice Barbie is just icing on the cake; Filipinos—specifically, Filipino women—are so underrepresented in the American political and legal landscapes, but that doesn’t mean we don’t exist. Throughout my time in the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), I have had the privilege of meeting so many strong and inspiring Filipino-American women who have served in government, community leadership, or legal positions.

Seeing Supreme Court Justice Barbie made me instantly think of Counselor Lara Gregory, who was actually the very first Filipina Lawyer I had ever personally met—I was 21 years old. I remember talking with her, hearing her speak, and learning more about her and thinking, “Wow she is so inspiring and such a great advocate, and face, for women in our community.”

And then I thought of all the other Filipinas in my life, in NaFFAA leadership but also in my personal life, who have served as role models—literal Barbies. Because when I think of Barbie diversity, I think of the power of representation, and the importance of representation in our community in order to inspire the next generation. These women are not only working toward their dream in predominantly white and male fields, but through their journey and advocacy are also ensuring that young Filipina girls see themselves in those roles and fields.

Though the film has not been without controversy, I really enjoyed it. I felt like the movie’s message, Cruz Kayne’s representation, and all the other empowering aspects—was dedicated to not only me

—as a Mestiza—but my Nanay, Ates, Titas, Ninangs, and all the other Filipina Barbies in my life who have embraced their unique identities and pushed boundaries and glass ceilings.

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