Bigger than Barbie

Bigger than Barbie is a documentary that follows a small group of women in South Africa who are using Monkeybiz, their beading project, to overcome poverty and HIV/AIDS.

Monkeybiz’s beading products provided women in the poorest of Capetown’s townships with a way to make money. The documentary captures the journey of the beading products (which include dolls and animals) from the township of Khayelitsha in Capetown to Donna Karans store on Madison Avenue in New York. From there, the dolls venture to the 46664 Mandela Concert for HIV/AIDS in Norway. With stars like Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Annie Lenox, and Donna Karan, one can see that there’s a lot of strength behind this documentary and project. This journey shows Monkeybiz’s desire to become “Bigger than Barbie.”

The documentary interviews important figures such as the celebrities above, the founders of Monkeybiz, and shows news stories on the dolls. There are many shots of the women making the beads, so the viewer can see the work actually being done. This film also serves to help monkeybiz and spread the word about their goals. The women making the products are the sole focus however of the film, making it real.

Bigger than Barbie has not been played in major theaters, rather it plays in special screenings. The first screening of Bigger than Barbie in 2006  was at ABC Carpet & Home Store on Broadway in New York. A Monkeybiz exhibition was also being held there in connection with the film (where I first heard about it). After that, it was played at many screenings and film festivals including the Scandanavian Film Festival in LA, San Francisco International Arts Festival and a screening at Harvard University. In November 2006, the DVD became available for purchase, and now they continue their legacy through their website:

I think the film made a tremendous impact. Well-respected and highly authoritative figures (in their respective fields) like Nelson Mandela and Donna Karan present in their documentary shows how important this issue and capturing of the issue really is. Annie Lenox said, “When I see these dolls, they are like a symbol of hope.” I think the movie changed the lives of the women involved in the project and the viewers who watched it.


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