Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 October 2019

Dia de los Muertos: Day of the Dead Barbie divides opinion amid claims of 'cultural appropriation'

Toymaker Mattel has been accused of cashing in on a centuries-old cultural tradition

The new Barbie has been created to commemorate the Mexican Day of the Dead. EPA
The new Barbie has been created to commemorate the Mexican Day of the Dead. EPA

A Barbie figurine that pays tribute to Mexico's Day of the Dead has, in a turn of events, set social media alive.

Toymaker Mattel will release a limited-edition doll this month in commemoration of Dia de los Muertos, a traditional holiday marked throughout the Latin American nation.

The family-focused event, which is held between October 31 and November 2, is observed by remembering loved ones that have passed with prayers and traditional foods.

It is believed that the gateway between heaven and the living world opens during the holiday, with the festival's origins dating back to Aztec times.

“We often look at different ways to continue to engage girls and families to gain knowledge and celebrate other cultures and other parts of the world,” Michelle Chidoni, a spokeswoman for Mattel, told The New York Times. “Our hope is for this Dia de Muertos Barbie to honour the holiday for the millions that celebrate and to introduce people not familiar with the tradition to the rich meaning.”

During the celebratory holiday, which is on Unesco's Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list, people often wear skull masks or paint their faces with skeletal, ghoulish makeup as part of the cultural phenomenon.

The Day of the Dead Barbie wears the traditional makeup, along with a monarch butterfly headpiece and black dress, embroidered with floral motifs.

Butterflies are a recognised emblem of the holiday, and are said to symbolise the souls of loved ones coming back to visit family members.

epa07798579 An undated handout picture made available by US company Mattel on 27 August 2019, shows the new Barbie edition that will be launched to commemorate the Mexican Day of the Dead. The doll's makeup is based in the traditional Catrina, traditional Mexican icon of the Day of the Dead created by cartoonist Jose Guadalupe Posada back in 1912. Mexico celebrates the Day of the Dead, Dia de Muertos, on 02 November. EPA/PAUL JORDAN / MATTEL / HANDOUT HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES/NO ARCHIVES
The doll's makeup is based on the traditional Mexican La Calavera Catrina ('The Elegant Skull'). EPA

However, Barbie's iteration has come under criticism, with some suggesting the doll was a clear-cut case of cultural appropriation.

“I think we have to be careful in the way that we portray our celebrations as Mexicans. It’s important that it is not a parody of the celebration, and more of a representation of Latinos," Jose Higuera Lepez, deputy director of New York's Jamie Lucero Mexican Studies Institute, told The New York Times.

Radio host Mariluz Gonzalez added: "It’s obviously cultural appropriation ... It’s what our country loves to do. It’s all about marketing.”

Twitter users also accused Mattel of cultural appropriation, accusing the company of capitalising on a "sacred tradition".

Other commenters, however, praised the toymaker for paying tribute to Mexico with the release, saying the doll "celebrated our beautiful culture".

The Barbie will be released on Thursday, September 12, and costs $75 (Dh275.50).

Updated: September 12, 2019 03:21 PM

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