Metro Weekly

Barbie or Oppenheimer? A Metro Weekly Forum

We asked readers for their thoughts on how to be a plastic girl in a military-industrial complex world.

Barbie and Oppenheimer

So desires like these had to be sublimated
No Barbies for me! GI Joes. Which I hated
But used when the neighborhood boys would war
But sometimes I’d swipe Barbies from the girl next door
And I’d throw the doll back. Didn’t need her, oh no
I just needed the dress that I’d tug onto my Joe
(In narrative terms, this is known as “foreshadowing”
But I didn’t know that. I only knew paddling.)

–Penny Sterling, “How I Became A Guy!”

Growing up, Caleb Copeland was, not unlike other boys, discouraged from playing with toys designed for girls. “Oddly enough,” he says, “my straight brother was the one who more often played Barbies with my sister.”

From a young age, Copeland was afraid of being seen as gay, a fear that he carried with him into his college years. Today, the 38-year-old identifies not only as queer, but as a “Barbenheimer,” a portmanteau of summer smash hits-to-be — one directed by Greta Gerwig, the other Christopher Nolan — that have been cast as opposing poles of popular culture.

Another proud Barbenheimer? Kyle Edward Ball, the gay film director known for the recent horror sensation Skinamarink. Unlike Copeland, Ball’s parents encouraged him to play with Barbies as a child. “They even bought me a Spice Girl Barbie,” he says. “In retrospect, I should have gotten Scary Spice instead.”

Ball plans to see Oppenheimer in IMAX on Saturday. “Apparently, Christopher Nolan saw my movie when it came out in theaters, so I feel like I need to reciprocate,” he says.

As far as Barbie, he’ll be watching it on demand. “It feels like a drinks-at-home kind of movie for me,” he says.

Both films, says film critic Nell Minow, contributing editor at, are “stories of massive and lasting turning points in history and culture” featuring “larger-than-life characters.”

Copeland, Ball, and Minow are three of more than two dozen Metro Weekly readers who participated in our “Barbenheimer Forum,” where community members and allies share their opinions on topics relevant to LGBTQ culture (say, movies about bombs and bombshells).

“I love the gays’ love for fabulously dressed divas who have it going on and no one fits that description better than Barbie,” says Minow, an ally and one of a handful of respondents who didn’t find Ken to be the gayest thing about Barbie. “Plus, she’s kind of camp, and gays invented camp!”

Ahead of the release of the two movies, we asked readers to identify themselves as Barbie girls or Oppenheimer girls (or, because we loathe binaries, “Barbenheimer” girls), to say whom they would have cast as Ken if they had their say (many would have opted for Austin Butler, Zac Efron, James Marsden, or an actor of color), and other scintillating questions. What follows are a selection of our favorite responses, lightly edited for space and clarity.

Be sure to take our quick Barbenheimer poll at the end of this article!

Are you a Barbie girl, an Oppenheimer girl, or a Barbenheimer girl? Why?

“I’m an Oppenheimer girl. Because I was so deeply closeted I would steal neighborhood girls’ Barbies and play with them, then I would have to get rid of them. Once when I had firecrackers I blew one up to try to destroy the evidence.” –Penny Sterling, 64, Rochester, N.Y.

“Barbie girl, for I am homosexual.” —Tyler Smith, 33, Lafayette, Tenn.

“I’m a Barbenheimer girl, because I love to have fun, but can get down with a good historical fiction any day. Barbie explores topics of body positivity, mental health, gender roles in society, and corporate greed. Oppenheimer provides an opportunity to revisit a historical moment that is often told through the lens of warm-time America, a ‘winner’ from WWII, but sheds light on the moral and political struggles of those involved in the Manhattan Project.” —Caleb Copper, 34, Washington, D.C.

“I wasn’t originally a Barbenheimer girl but the memes I’ve seen online have officially converted me with the duality of man.” —Kari Litteer, 32, Baltimore, Md.

“Barbenheimer, no binarism for me, please. Both are depictions of complex worlds.” —Daniel Clavel, 35, Buenas Aires, Argentina

“I’m neither unfortunately.” —Denny Lyon, 78, Baltimore, Md.

Barbie girl from way back. I had one of those first Barbies in a red bathing suit in the box. I have a lot of respect for Oppenheimer in what he helped to create. I have a degree from engineering and I am from New Mexico. So I do look forward to the movie. But my heart belongs to Barbie. I will probably see this movie many times.” —Bill Keeran, 62, Lawton, Okla.

“Barbenheimer Girl. Ever since I was a child, I’ve liked to scare the shit out of myself and then relax by watching something cute or funny.” —Roger Spence, 50, Washington, D.C.

“I am one of the few people in the world that have no feelings about Barbie at all, as I didn’t play with dolls and barely watched cartoons. I will say I was immensely jealous of her beach house full of friends, and her dashing boyfriend until I found out he wasn’t anatomically correct. Back in the days of Toys ‘R’ Us, I would scour the place for things I loved, and I did love it when there were more diverse Barbies on the shelves, Black, Brown, Asian. I admired her ability to try and change and keep up, even when I was a kid, I thought she was pretty accepting and progressive.” —Charles Karel Bouley, 60, Las Vegas, Nev.

“I’m more into Oppenheimer, because I prefer films that are more realistic. I guess I’m just pretentious that way.” —David Hollingsworth, 37, Fayetteville, N.C.

“Barbenheimer! I was a little girl when Barbie first appeared and it was a seismic event. I tried to keep Barbie out of our house when our daughter was little but like the Borg, resistance is futile. She had fun playing with Barbie and I had fun watching her. And she grew up to be a professional costume designer, so Barbie was a foundational influence. And the Oppenheimers’ story is foundational to the history of the 20th century. The scientific advances and moral dilemmas of his work are the essence of drama.” —Nell Minow, 71, U.S.


Barbie and Oppenheimer have been cast as diametrically opposed. Do you see the films as similar in any way?

“Heck, yeah. You put Barbie in her bomb making outfit and you put Oppenheimer in something pink and I don’t think you could tell them apart.” —Bill Keeran

“They are both the same: virtual fantasies of late capitalism intended to make wealthy and affluent people more powerful, and not to anything much else.” —Edward, 67, Va.

“They are similar in that they explore what it means to be human and part of humanity. They both explore themes like ‘What does it mean to be human’ and ‘What is my responsibility to others and to myself.'” —Clinton Manning, Kensington, Md.

“I do see the films being similar in that Oppenheimer was during a dark period of World War II in 1945 and then Barbie comes on the scene in 1959 in a period where America and the world was trying to rebuild.” —John Plaster, 45, Baltimore, Md.

“Both are sure to provide social commentary on the harm they’ve caused humanity in completely different ways. Barbie has damaged psyches by forcing the ideal model of beauty while Oppenheimer‘s toll was an actual death toll to innocent victims.” —Ryan Leeds, 47, New York, N.Y.

“Well, first, they’re both biographies of sorts — one about a cultural icon and one about a man that literally brought about the original weapons of mass destruction, something he would later regret. While Barbie tries to maintain her innocence, and her love of material things, Oppenheimer shows our loss of innocence, and fear of losing all material things. They both look at two very different cultural phenomena.” –Charles Karel Bouley

“Both Barbie and Oppenheimer have had significant influence and impact on society. Barbie, in the form of a cultural and fashion icon, and Oppenheimer, as a pivotal figure in the development of nuclear physics and its impact on geopolitics. Barbie has faced criticism over the years for promoting unrealistic body image standards to young girls. Oppenheimer faced intense ethical and moral dilemmas in creating the atomic bomb.” —Ryan Tyler, 40, U.K.

“One has a bomb and the other will be the bomb.” —Tyler Smith


Which movie do you think will earn more at the box office when all is said and done? Why?

Barbie. It’s easier to eat only the frosting of the cake.” —Daniel Clavel

Barbie. Despite Nolan’s history of dominating the box office, the marketing around Barbie has been far stronger and with such an iconic brand being handled by a passionate director (who clearly aimed to dive deeper than the bubble gum pink surface of Barbie World), Barbie has the edge.” —Caleb Copeland, 38, Washington, D.C.

Barbie, because nobody would have cared about the other one if not for it releasing on the same day.” —Tyler Smith

“I think Barbie will outearn Oppenheimer purely because Barbie is appealing to all ages where Oppenheimer appeals to a specific age range.” —Kari Litteer

Barbie, because no matter how you slice it, a movie about dolls come to life is more appealing over the summer than a movie about the beginning of the end, and an invention that ended up killing hundreds of thousands.” —Charles Karel Bouley

“Well the talk of the town bets would say DEFINITELY Barbie! It’s all I’ve been seeing on socials. It’s memorabilia for A LOT of my generation and those before me. I think this movie is definitely going to gain new fans as well.” —Christian Aguilar, 35, Washington, D.C.

“The one that attracts the most people eager to support late capitalism and the oppression of working class communities.” —Edward in Virginia

Barbie will earn more. The world is crazy. We all need some comic relief.” —Roger Spence

“Hmm. hnnnmmm. hmmmmMMMMMMGGGHHH… No, I’m sorry. I tried very hard, but I cannot care less about this than I already do.” —Penny Sterling


Which movie do you believe will earn more love at the Oscars? Why?

“Please refer to my box office response.” —Penny Sterling

“They’ll both get nominated, but Oppenheimer is more likely to get acting awards.” —Nell Minow

Oppenheimer. I just do.” —Kyle Edward Ball, 31, Edmonton, Canada

Oppenheimer. It is the quintessential ‘catnip’ for Oscar voters.” —Clinton Manning

Oppenheimer, hands down. It is the type of serious movie that the Oscars love to love.” —Bernie Delia, 67, Washington, D.C.

Oppenheimer will likely earn more love at the Oscars, because Christopher Nolan.” —Caleb Cooper

Oppenheimer, because Hollywood loves films like that and are hard on movies where a woman dares to be pretty. Barbie might get nominated for production design or costumes.” —Tyler Smith

Oppenheimer, because the Academy is very stuffy. Barbie may get nominated for costumes, music, and such, but just like DC and superhero movies, fun Summer films are very much excluded from the Oscar reindeer games.” —Charles Karel Bouley

Barbie has the wider audience, star power and is just more marketable.” —Ryan Tyler

“Really? who cares? You have a strange idea of ‘love’ don’t you?” —Edward in Virginia


As a kid, did anyone ever discourage you from playing with Barbie dolls, even though you wanted to? Or vice versa, were you encouraged to play with Barbie dolls despite having no desire to do so?

“Absolutely. I learned early on that ‘boys don’t play with girl’s dolls.'” —Bernie Delia

“No one ever discouraged me from playing with Barbies and I loved them. I had the RV and the swimming pool with the slide. It was fun to dress the Barbie and Ken dolls up and of course have them make out! Lol” —John Plaster

“I actually remember having a pretty chill time with my twin brother, where he would be gifted toy cars and I’d be gifted Barbies and we’d happily play with our assigned genders and then swap!” —Kanea MacDonald, 29, Silver Spring, Md.

“I remember being told not to as a kid by my father. I did play with them with cousins as a young kid but my real obsession was with their hair. It’s so embarrassing, but I used to love just braiding them and sometimes adding color. Other than that I did still love my action figures as well, but personally I had no desire to actually own a Barbie as a collectibl.e” —Christian Aguilar

“As a boy I was never discouraged from playing with dolls. However, my doll of preference was Dawn. I guess I’m revealing my age by stating that.” —Mark Schulte, 58, New York, N.Y.

“No. My mom and dad bought me one of the first Barbies. But then again, I’m a straight girl. I loved playing with her. I had a Ken, too. My mom made clothes for both dolls. And my younger brother used to bring his GI Joe into the mix and we’d play with all the dolls together. Bottom line: We all enjoyed playing with all the dolls. And this was in the 1960s.” —L. Yger, 66, Arlington, Va.

“I was six when Barbie first appeared and EVERY GIRL in the first grade had to have a Barbie. Only one, though, had a mom who was willing to pay $5 for the wedding dress! Once she arrived, that was the end of the baby dolls. And I was reluctant to let my daughter have a Barbie, but I was wrong. My sister-in-law gave her a Barbie and Ken and she loved them. A clear influence on her future career as a costume designer!” —Nell Minow

“I loved playing with Barbie dolls growing up and only wished Ken had more clothes. I was never pressured or dissuaded from playing with Barbies, thankfully.” —Kari Litteer

“I grew up poor, so spending money on any toys just wasn’t a thing. I was always more into electronics, trains and such. Radio Shack and camera stores, even in my early days, were the places I most wanted to be. I wanted to photograph Barbie, not play with her.” —Charles Karel Bouley

“I never really wanted to play with dolls of any type. I preferred model ships, cars and spaceships.” —Clinton Manning


What’s the gayest thing about Barbie?

“Girl, EVERYTHING! The colors, the fashion, the muscles on KEN?! Just about everything screams gay and I’m here for it! Well besides Ken’s physique. He could have been more realistic ha!” —Christian Aguilar

“Ryan Gosling’s abs.” —David Hollingsworth

“Hard to say between the visibly gay mermaid romance scene and the time she and her girlfriend adopted a pet together.” —Kanea MacDonald

“The hair? The millions of outfits?” —Bernie Delia

“She’s so perky and so naive about everything she wants everything perfect in her own little world.” —Alicia Aguirre, 31, Farmers Branch, Tx.

“The oversized plastic hair brushes.” —Kyle Edward Ball

“Her van. It looks like a pink version of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” —Ryan Leeds

“I don’t think there is anything gay about Barbie. I haven’t watched or kept up with the brand in a long time. I hope they have gay Barbie and Ken dolls now.” —John Plaster


In an ideal world, who would you have preferred to Ryan Gosling as Ken?

“Ryan Gosling’s good, but maybe an actor of color could have played Ken. It is 2023 and all.” —David Hollingsworth

“Leave Ryan alone, he’s perfect.” —Kanea MacDonald

“I think Ryan makes a perfect Ken. He has lived the type his entire career.” —Charles Karel Bouley

“I can’t think of anyone who would be more appropriate.” —Denny Lyon

“Chris Hemsworth, Chace Crawford, Michael B. Jordan, William Levy, Josh Dallas, Sebastian Stan, Drake, Matt Lanter, Jacob Elordi.” —Clinton Manning

“Trevante Rhodes.” —Kyle Edward Ball


“Simu Liu.” —Roger Spence

“Ricky Martin! Now that he and his husband are getting a divorce he’s available for Barbie again.” —Mark Schulte

“Ryan Gosling is fine. Each time I see him in a trailer, I laugh. That said, would have loved to see Regé-Jean Page as one of the other Kens!” —L. Yger

“I’m perfectly happy with Gosling, but James Marsden or Chris Hemsworth would also have very finely cast.” —Ryan Leeds

“Any Hemsworth, yet why’s got to be white?” —Daniel Clavel

“Well, my husband would be a GREAT Ken.” —Nell Minow

Barbie and Oppenheimer are playing in theaters nationwide. Visit for showtimes and theater locations.

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