As a little girl, Samantha Knowles didn’t stop to consider why most of her dolls—her American Girl dolls, her Cabbage Patch Kids, her Barbie dolls—were black like her. But black dolls were not common in her upstate New York hometown, whose population remains overwhelmingly white. So when Knowles was 8 years old, one of her friends innocently asked “Why do you have black dolls?” And she didn’t know quite what to say.
But that question stuck with her, and in college, she started to consider how she would answer as an adult. Finally, as an undergraduate film student at Dartmouth, she connected with a small but passionate group of black doll enthusiasts who gather at black doll shows around the country, and for her senior honors thesis, Knowles, now 22, completed a documentary called “Why Do You Have Black Dolls?” to articulate the answer.
What the Brooklyn filmmaker didn’t know was that her mother felt so strongly that her daughters, Samantha and Jillian, have dolls of their own race, that she would stand in line at stores or make special orders to make sure they got one of the few black versions. “My parents made sure to get us a lot of black dolls in a wide variety of hues and shapes,” Samantha Knowles says. “We didn’t have exclusively black dolls, but we had mostly black dolls. After I started working on the film, I had a lot of conversations with my mom, and she would say, ‘Oh, you don’t know what I had to go through to get some of those dolls!’”
Sometimes, products are all the more disappointing when they sounded pretty cool at first.
Case in point: Mattel's blockbuster franchise, Monster High. This series of dolls is centered around the children (mostly daughters) of werewolves, mummies and other classic beasties of horror tales. When speaking about the franchise to the New York Times, Tim Kilpin of Mattel said, "Who doesn't feel like a freak in high school? It started with that universal truth." Of course, high schoolers aren't Mattel's target market; in fact, most Monster High products are officially listed as "Age 6-8." Still, dolls that promote not buying into superficial mainstream standards would be neat, right?
Yeah, they would. Too bad that's not what's happening here.
Gwen and her mother Janine fell on hard times when her father lost his job; they later lost the house as they were unable to keep up payments. Soon after, Gwen's father left them and they became homeless...
Job loss? Homeownership kaput? Sounds like what a sizeable chunk of America experienced this past year! Looks like American Girl is very up to date with contemporary issues that girls (and their parents) can relate to, or at least recognize (see also: Chrissa vs. the cyber-bullies!). Color me cynical, but I can't help but feel this is just a marketing strategy by the Mattel-owned company.