This Barbie is an environmentalist. And a prankster.
“Splash” and “Wall Street” star Daryl Hannah helped carry out a Barbie-themed “hoax” that duped several media outlets into believing she was the face behind Mattel’s new environmentally conscious “EcoWarrior Barbie” on Tuesday.
The viral campaign launched as Greta Gerwig’s “Barbie” feature dominated the summer box office. And, apparently, that was the point, according to to the activist group behind the prank.
In a video titled “Plastic Free With Daryl Hannah” that liberally utilized Mattel branding, Hannah convinced some viewers that the famed toymaker also pledged to go plastic-free by 2030, starting with Ruth Handler’s iconic fashion doll. Hannah announced her partnership with the company and even delineated ways Mattel would produce future dolls with “totally compostable materials” such as resin, mushroom and algae. She also asserted that Mattel would support a federal ban on plastics in kids’ toys and on single-use plastics.
“Barbie and I are about the same age, except she will never die, really,” the 62-year-old star claimed. “During my lifetime, Barbie and over 1 billion of her friends have been abandoned in our landfills and waterways where they will live on forever.”
But a spokesperson for Mattel confirmed to the New York Times and New York Post that it was not behind the campaign, describing it as “a hoax” that “has nothing to do with Mattel or any of its products.” Representatives for the El Segundo-based company did not immediately respond Wednesday to The Times’ request for comment.
An infamous satirist from the Yes Men — Mike Bonanno (whose real name is Igor Vamos) — partnered with Hannah for the lark, along with activist group the Barbie Liberation Organization. They produced the video in which Hannah also pitched MyCelia dolls inspired by environmental activists such as herself, Greta Thunberg, Julia Butterfly Hill, Nemonte Nequimo and Phoebe Plummer.
Hannah has been familiar with the Yes Men since first meeting them at a global climate conference in Amsterdam in 2010. She was drawn to their irreverent, “incredibly effect” approach, she said in an email to The Times.
“They say what needs to be said. They wanted to do something around the attention swirling around Barbie because they had participated in the Barbie Liberation Organization action in 1993 and they came to me to talk to me about the documentary brainstorming ideas,” she explained. “While we were brainstorming ideas, I remembered I had this barnacle covered Barbie I found in one of the most protected parts of the Pacific Ocean and the idea [sprang] from there.”
Hannah says she found the “barnacle covered Barbie” while snorkeling off the coast of Fiji a decade ago, the only real claim she made in the video.
According to the New York Times, the Barbie Liberation Organization, the activist group that began targeting the dolls in 1993, launched the campaign to capitalize on the hype surrounding the “Barbie” film and call attention to the use of plastic in toys.
“What we’re fighting against is half a century of misinformation from the plastics industry and from fossil fuel companies and interests that are trying to convince people that recycling is a viable solution to the plastic waste problem,” Bonanno told the newspaper.
The elaborate prank also involved convincing faux Mattel websites, one of which was titled “New Mattel Decomposable Barbie Line Celebrates the End of Plastic and Mourns the Dead.” It included a fake statement dated July 21 from Mattel’s executive vice president and chief brand officer, and a bogus media contact e-mail address.
“We’ve always wanted people to see themselves in Barbie,” the statement said. “But we never intended for her to enter our bloodstreams as microplastic, literally becoming a part of us forever. It sounds nice, but it’s actually not very good for you.”
News organizations such as People, the Washington Times and Dow Jones Newswires ran articles about the campaign that have since been removed or amended. The Washington Times, for example, issued an editor’s note addressing the flub.
Hannah was “absolutely ecstatic” over the public response to the campaign, noting that people were “giddy, beyond thrilled” at the prospect of Mattel going plastic-free.
“That seems to be what everyone wants,” she told The Times. “Because it’s clear to everyone we have a waste crisis and that petrochemical plastics should not be for daily use. Certainly not toys that live on forever,” she added. “They get inside our soil, our water and even … inside our bodies. So the toy industry, especially the large wildly successful ones like Mattel, have this wonderful opportunity to make a REAL change and have a huge impact if they’d aim for plastic free, biodegradable and compostable products. We don’t want more empty symbolic announcements.”
Mattel, which co-produced the “Barbie” movie through Mattel Films, has previously announced sustainability efforts regarding its plastic use, although not as extreme as those that Hannah described in the video.
In 2021, the company introduced its Barbie Loves the Ocean doll, its first fashion doll in the line made from recycled ocean-bound plastics and other recycled materials.
“This Barbie launch is another addition to Mattel’s growing portfolio of purpose-driven brands that inspire environmental consciousness with our consumer as a key focus,” Richard Dickson, president and chief operating officer of Mattel, said in a statement at the time. “At Mattel, we empower the next generation to explore the wonder of childhood and reach their full potential. We take this responsibility seriously and are continuing to do our part to ensure kids can inherit a world that’s full of potential, too.”
The program, the statement said, is one of several supporting the company’s corporate goal to “to use 100% recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastic materials in all products and packaging by 2030.”
Those pledges weren’t enough for the BLO. Members from the activist group lambasted Mattel on Tuesday in news-conference videos that Hannah reposted on social media.
“This is a message for Mattel, and every other company: Stop making plastic crap. You are ruining our future. Stop pink-washing your environmental crimes,” two seemingly young girls say in the clip.
“I love animals. I love the planet. Don’t take them from us. I think adults should just stop messing with our future,” one of them adds before they repeat in unison that “the Barbie Liberation Organization has spoken.”
A third member spoke out on behalf of women “fighting fascism” on the front lines around the world. She refers to them as the real “heroes” she looks up to and calls attention to women’s rights in Ukraine, Iran and North America that are “under attack.”
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