10 of the Most Important Black Barbies You Need to Know (2024)

Shondaland’s newest documentary, Black Barbie, premiering on Netflix on June 19, is here to prove that a doll has never been just a doll.

Tracing the history of Black dolls and the profound impact their initial absence had on children, Black Barbie tells the story of why representation matters — both in the toy aisle and inside the hallowed halls of an iconic toy company. Since the first brown-skinned doll in the Barbie world was introduced in the 1960s, each generation has experienced the joy of having Barbie dolls — the ultimate symbol of beauty and fashion — that look like them. And as each and every brown-skinned doll that has come since the first Black Barbie in 1980 means something to the culture and reinforces the importance of visibility in dolls, we wanted to highlight 10 dolls that made waves in a good way. From Barbies in wheelchairs to Barbies inspired by real-life icons like our own Shonda Rhimes, here are 10 of the most important Black Barbies in history.

1. Francie

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A reproduction of the Francie Barbie doll.

In 1967, Mattel produced a Black version of the mod doll Francie, Barbie’s cousin. “Colored Francie,” as she was called then, became the first brown-skinned Barbie doll in history. Though she still had the same white facial features and body type as the original Francie, Black Francie’s flipped-up do, short mod dress, and pink heels declared that Black women are just as beautiful and stylish and paved the way for a future of diverse dolls.

2. The Christie doll

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Though the launch of Francie was special, it was the following year that the first authentic Black Barbie-adjacent doll was born. The Christie doll is considered the first Black doll because Christie was made with Black features and not just brown skin like Francie. Christie, marketed as the “best friend” of Barbie, is also her own doll, not the Black version of another doll. While the Christie doll represented progress, it also solidified the idea of Black women and girls as the sidekick or best friend of the main character, who is always white. But at least Christie got a boyfriend! The Brad doll — the first Black male doll — was launched to be Christie’s companion not long afterward.

3. The Julia doll

In 1969, the Julia Barbie doll became the first Black doll fashioned after a Black woman icon. Diahann Carroll was the first Black woman to ever lead a television show, Julia, in a non-stereotypical or racialized role. Carroll’s eponymous character, Julia Baker, a nurse and single mother, inspired the Julia doll, who looked just like Carroll and had the short pixie cut the star rocked on the history-making show.

4. Black Barbie

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The original Black Barbie is in the center.

“She’s black! She’s beautiful! She’s dynamite!” Twenty-one years after Barbie hit the scene, Mattel launched Black Barbie in 1980 with that hip slogan on the box. Thanks to the legendary Kitty Black Perkins, who designed the doll, Black Barbie is the first Black doll that actually bore the Barbie name. With her short natural do and glamorous red dress, the doll became a symbol of what many of us already knew: We aren’t the sidekicks and best friends; we are beautiful too, and the fabulous center of our own stories.

5. The “Dolls of the World” collection

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Mattel increased its diversity over the next decade by introducing Barbies and Kens wearing cultural dress from all around the world. In 1990, Mattel launched the first African doll, Nigerian Barbie. Though she had the Christie doll face, she wore a glamorous peplum gown, heels, gold armbands, and a matching headband over her giant Afro, signaling that Blackness was far more expansive than what Mattel had offered thus far.

6. The Shani doll

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In 1991, after making history with Black Barbie, Black Perkins did it again with a new Black fashion doll named Shani. The Shani doll had her own friends and her own world made up of exclusively Black characters who came in different shades of brown. Though Shani’s time in the sun only lasted until 1993, she laid the groundwork for an imaginary world that reflects so many of our realities.

7. Barbies with disabilities

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A still from the Black Barbie documentary, featuring Barbies with disabilities.

For the same reasons of validation, visibility, respect, and self-esteem, body diversity in toys absolutely matters too. Though Mattel made the wheelchair-user doll Share-a-Smile Becky in 1997, it wasn’t until 2019 that the first Black wheelchair-user doll was launched. The natural-hair beauty rocks two Afro puffs and a stylish top with jeans and sneakers, and comes with a ramp, allowing accessibility to all the places Barbie wants to go. In 2020, Mattel added a Black Barbie with the skin condition vitiligo to its Fashionistas collection as well, expanding opportunities for Black children with disabilities to see a version of themselves at play too.

8. The Barbie “Inspiring Women” collection

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Mattel shined a light on great Black women of history with their own dolls starting in 2018. With the launch of the “Inspiring Women” series, Mattel honored legends Rosa Parks, Ida B. Wells, Celia Cruz, Maya Angelou, and other historic women with collectible Barbies in their images. The collection declared that anybody, regardless of skin color, hair texture, body type, or circ*mstances, can be a Barbie — and so much more. But Mattel’s work wasn’t done yet!

9. The Shonda Rhimes Barbie

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In 2016, Mattel expanded its tradition of honoring history-making women, celebrating icons in the present day like Misty Copeland, the first Black principal dancer of American Ballet Theatre. A year later, Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad got her own doll, the first Barbie to ever wear a hijab. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that for International Women’s Day in 2022 and as part of Mattel’s Dream Gap Project, Shondaland leader Shonda Rhimes became a Barbie, decked out in a stunning Carolina Herrera sweater and skirt. And last year, to honor the fifth anniversary of the Dream Gap Project, Rhimes got a second doll in a collection that included four other previously released Role Model Barbies: French chef Hélène Darroze, Italian paralympic fencer Bebe Vio, Chinese volleyball player Hui Ruoqi, and Katya Echazarreta, an electrical engineer and the first Mexican-born woman to travel into space.

10. The Laverne Cox Barbie

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In 2022, with the Barbie Tribute Collection, Mattel created a doll in honor of actress Laverne Cox, the first transgender Emmy acting nominee and the first trans Barbie doll in history. With every new Black Barbie they add to the collection, it’s just more proof that no matter our shade of brown, our length of hair, our body type, gender, or ability, we’re all dolls. And we all deserve to shine!

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10 of the Most Important Black Barbies You Need to Know (2024)

FAQs

What is the importance of Black Barbie? ›

But it also had a huge impact on the toy industry and dolls,” says Moten. “It shows the ways in which seeing your race represented in the toys that you play with is really important for self-identity and self-concept.”

What was the first Black Barbie's name? ›

Many consider Christie to be the first “Black Barbie.” Christie was part of a series of talking dolls. By pulling a string on her back, the doll said things like, “Hi! I'm Christie!” and “Let's go shopping with Barbie.” Christie's hair was black.

Who was the first Black Barbie doll in 1967? ›

It wasn't until 1967 that Mattel, the company that manufactures Barbie, made its first dark-skinned doll. Her name was Francie and she came with a cool twist-and-turn feature in her waist that made her even more fun to play with.

What does Black Barbie mean? ›

“When I designed this doll, there was a need for the little black girl to have something she could play with that looked like her,” explains Black Perkins, who recruited and mentored other black talent at Mattel before retiring in 2003 as chief Barbie designer. “I wanted her to reflect the total look of a black woman.”

Why black dolls are important? ›

Black Dolls Bring Joy, Challenge Racial Barriers

While the Saralee doll was originally created to provide Black children with beautiful toys that positively reflected them with dignity, pride and respect, children of other backgrounds also enjoyed the toy.

What are some important facts about Barbie? ›

POWER
  • Barbie is the most popular fashion doll ever produced and the No. ...
  • A Barbie Dreamhouse is sold every two minutes and was first introduced in 1962.
  • Barbie is the most diverse fashion doll on the market.
  • More than 100 dolls are sold every minute.
  • Barbie is sold in 150 countries worldwide.

Who was Barbie's black friend? ›

Christie (1968–2005, 2015): Barbie doll's first African American friend character, Christie was part of the new group of Talking dolls for 1968. She was later issued as a Twist 'N Turn version.

What was Barbie's real name? ›

Barbie – which in the doll's case, is short for Barbara Millicent Roberts – was already a nickname for Barbara long before Mattel's version hit the shelves, and a name some parents gave their children.

What was the name of the 90s Black Barbie? ›

Following the success of Black Barbie, Perkins developed the first exclusive line of Black dolls for Barbie in 1991. Called Shani and Friends, the doll line featured three characters — Shani, Asha and Nichelle — with varying skin tones, hair colors and textures.

What is the name of the black Ken? ›

1982: Sunsational Malibu Ken doll, the first African American Ken doll is introduced with a rooted Afro hairstyle. 1984: Dream Date Ken (shown here) was the perfect arm candy for Barbie.

What was the first black male Barbie doll? ›

In 1968 Brad, the first African American male doll, was introduced as the boyfriend of Barbie's African American friend, Christie, who was introduced in 1967.

What is the new Black Barbie? ›

The Netflix documentary “Black Barbie” examines why the doll, which was created by designer Kitty Black Perkins in 1980, holds a strong cultural significance.

Are Black Barbies more expensive? ›

Brown, who thought it could have been an isolated issue, was astonished to see that across different stores, the Black dolls consistently cost more than the white versions. Professor and doll historian at Duke University, Dr. Sabrina Thomas, said that the issue stems from racial inequality in the production of toys.

Who is the black haired girl in Barbie? ›

Raquelle is a fair-skinned young woman with long wavy black hair and brown eyes. She is the same size and body type as Barbie, allowing her to borrow Barbie's clothes as needed. Her signature outfit is a golden coat with a white shirt and a black, frilly skirt.

What is the symbolism of the Black doll? ›

They symbolize the struggle for freedom and human dignity. Each doll has a message of truth and strength that is important to the psychological and sociological development of Black people. Collectively, they represent visual images of how Black people were perceived throughout world history.”

What is the significance of the Barbie doll? ›

Since 1959, Barbie's purpose has been to inspire the limitless potential in every girl. We have always known that a small doll can make a big impact. Today we bring power to our purpose, not only as a global icon, but as an advocate for real social and environmental change.

Are black Barbies more expensive? ›

Brown, who thought it could have been an isolated issue, was astonished to see that across different stores, the Black dolls consistently cost more than the white versions. Professor and doll historian at Duke University, Dr. Sabrina Thomas, said that the issue stems from racial inequality in the production of toys.

What is Barbie supposed to represent? ›

Created by Ruth Handler and introduced by Mattel in 1959, Barbie has become much more than just a doll. She represents more than just fashion and beauty; she symbolises empowerment, diversity, and the breaking of stereotypes.

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