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Barbie’s Inspiring Women doll series just added another to its ranks—the incomparable Maya Angelou.
While most famous for her memoirs, Angelou expressed her incredible creative talent through a wide range of mediums, including song, dance, poetry, journalism, playwriting and acting—grappling with American racism, sexism, trauma, resilience and Black identity. The first installment of her seven-tome autobiography series, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is regarded as a modern American classic. (A tiny replica of the 1969 book is included with the Maya Angelou doll.)
In addition to her creative pursuits, Angelou was also a civil rights activist, organizing alongside Martin Luther King Jr. with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1960s. In 2011, Angelou received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President Barack Obama—one of dozens of awards she earned in her 86 years. She died in 2014.
For the Inspiring Women series, there’s hardly a more qualified figure. Angelou is the 10th doll in the set, which launched in 2018, and the fourth Black woman to be honored. The others include Susan B. Anthony, Amelia Earhart, Ella Fitzgerald, Katherine Johnson, Frida Kahlo, Billie Jean King, Florence Nightingale, Rosa Parks and Sally Ride.
“As a powerful writer and activist, [Angelou’s] extraordinary life and unforgettable legacy is exactly what we hope this collection inspires in the next generation,” said Mattel svp and global head of Barbie and dolls Lisa McKnight. “By introducing children to Maya Angelou’s courageous story and written works through doll play, our goal is to spark conversation and awareness with children and their families.”
Last year, the Mattel-owned brand announced plans to improve representation, pledging that at least 50% of its future “role models” would be Black, Indigenous or women of color.
“Diversity and inclusion must be the foundation of all that we do,” said a Mattel spokesperson. “We will continue to stand united in the fight against racism and help remove barriers that prevent the next generation from reaching their full potential.”
The brand has long fielded criticism for its unrealistic portrayal of women’s bodies but has made some progress in recent years, expanding to more than 35 skin tones, 94 hairstyles and nine body types. The all-women 2020 campaign team, for example, featured a Black presidential candidate, Asian campaign manager, curvy fundraiser and petite brunette voter.
Barbie also partnered with Cardiff University on research, published last fall, that showed how doll play helps children develop empathy and social skills. Other studies have found similar results, specifically noting the positive impact that a diverse set of dolls can have on children’s understanding of and empathy toward people who look different from them.
While the initial online inventory of Maya Angelou dolls sold out online within two days, there was still some product on the shelves at select Target stores at the time of writing. Still, the resale market is hot, indicating no shortage of demand for the new doll—they go for $29.99 on Mattel’s official website, but on eBay, they start at $50.
Mattel declined to give specific numbers on the initial inventory or restock, but said there would be more available late next month.