Even before its opening in mid July, the new Barbie movie made a splash in the Balkans with residents of the region perusing the news generated by the marketing campaign.
A tweet depicting the popularity of Barbie vs current box-office competitor Oppenheimer in the Balkans by a Kosovo group Kos_data that produces data visualizations went viral, with over 4.5 million views so far.
Barbie vs Oppenheimer: Which is the most searched movie in the Balkans in the last 24 hours pic.twitter.com/NdGhhZ9IUw
— kos_data (@kos_data) July 22, 2023
As explained by the Turkish version of the UK newspaper Independent, Kos_data used the results of the Google Trends searches for each country of the region.
Barbie mania also included an example of the disinformation trend of reusing news from abroad as inspiration to produce misleading content aimed at inciting interethnic hatred at a time of increased political tensions between Serbia and Kosovo.
False news about the ban of Barbie movie in Serbia
After Vietnam banned the Barbie movie due to a controversial map that had geopolitical implications for some, photoshopped Balkan variants of the scene begun to pop up, alleging that the film is banned in Serbia also.
The fact-checking service Truthmeter.mk debunked viral disinformation that used a meme based on a screenshot from the movie trailer that alleged that a map of the Balkans in the movie promotes the nationalist concept of Greater Albania. This concept implies the Albanian conquest and ethnic cleansing of parts of Greece, North Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, and Montenegro.
While the meme itself was possibly produced as a joke, many people in the region reacted to it in a very serious manner, using it as vehicle and excuse for hate speech. For instance, all but one of 36 shares and 27 comments of a Facebook post rated false by Truthmeter.mk contain curses and insults against Albanians, the “Satanic” West or the US and its allies. In this case government of North Macedonia is presented as weakling accepting Western dictates, which is referred to with a slur that can be translated as “Northistan” — an attempt to show disagreement with the name change in 2019.
FILMOT ZA BARBI ZABRANET VO SRBIJA PORADI MAPA NA GOLEMA ALBANIJA … VO SEVEDZGAN NE E ZABRANET IAKO NA MAPATA SEVERDZGAN NE POSTOI I E PODELEN MEGJU BUGARIJA I GOLEMA ALBANIJA .OVA DA SI ZNAETE KAKO VI STOJAT RABOTITE VO DRZAVCEVO I SHTO VI SPREMAAT !
The film Barbie was banned in Serbia due to the map of Great Albania. It has not been banned in Northistan although Northistan is not on the map at all and is divided between Bulgaria and Greater Albania. This is just to let you know the state of affairs in our statelet and what they [the West and Macedonian government] have in store for you.
Some right wing propagandists who seemingly were aware it's false also shared the meme with a comment that they can't verify if it's true, knowing that the image will inflame their audience anyway. One such media personality later removed such а clickbait tweet.
The false information that the Barbie movie is banned in Serbia was also making rounds on the social networks in Albania, where it had been debunked by the fact-checking service Faktoje.
Comments by some members of the Albanian community on Facebook and on Twitter indicated that some of its members shared the meme also, but with different motives: as a way to promote nationalist sentiments, or to prove their negative opinion of Serbia as repressive country that uses censorship.
In fact, the Barbie movie was never censored in Serbia. Moreover, on July 25, its distributor Blitz Film declared it the highest grossing film in Serbian cinemas since the COVID-19 pandemic. During the first weekend of showing it had 60,315 movie theater visitors, earning over USD 306,000 dollars, which is quite a lot for a country with 6 million citizens.
Remembering local Barbie variants
On a lighter note, the Museum of Yugoslavia from Belgrade joined the discussion about Barbie mania by recalling a local version of the doll that was popular at the end of the 1980s.
The term “Barbie doll” in its local variant “barbika” were widespread across the former federation, and were used not only for the original, imported kind, but also for any knockoffs or variants of plastic dress up dolls. In the 1970s and 1980s, owning an original Barbie was considered very important part of little girls’ childhood, even playing a role of a kind of status symbol for the family.
Dok ceo svet luduje za novim filmom Barbie #izdvajamoizkolekcije barbiku napravljenu po liku Lepe Brene. Ovaj proizvod sa likom poznate pevačice prorduciran je uz album „Boli me uvo za sve“, koji je ujedno i muzička podloga u filmu „Hajde da se volimo 3 – Udaje se Lepa Brena“. pic.twitter.com/M48kV5lrWL
— Muzej Jugoslavije (@MuzejYU) July 24, 2023
While the whole world goes crazy about the new Barbie movie, from our collection we single out this ‘Barbie doll’ modeled upon Lepa Brena. This product with the face of the famous singer was produced alongside the album “Boli me uvo za sve” [I couldn't care less] which was a soundtrack to the movie “Hajde da se volimo 3 – Udaje se Lepa Brena” [Let's love each other 3 – Lepa Brena is getting married].”
The movie series “Hajde da se volimo” (Let's love each other) consisted of three musical comedies published between 1987 and 1990. They featured fictional adventures of the regional folk star Lepa Brena, in a manner reminiscent of the comedies of Elvis Presley. These hugely popular movies included slapstick humor in the manner of Louis de Funès by some of the most popular Yugoslav actors at the time, like Dragomir “Gidra” Bojanić and Bata Živojinović.
The Lepa Brena doll wears an outfit from the video spot of the song “Hajde da se volimo” (Let's love each other) in which she and her band parade around Dubrovnik in quasi Scottish costumes. It also ties in promotion of tourism on the Adriatic Coast. In recent years these dolls were sought out as collectibles, with prices reaching up to 123 dollars on online auction sites.