The mainstream press regards any 11.5” fashion doll as a “Barbie” so the headlines Nokia’s “Freedom” commercial has garnered refer to Mattel’s signature character, but the star of the piece is actually a character named Jett from the first wave of Integrity Toys’ Dynamite Girls series – the 2007 Explosive Style collection. Promotional copy about the Dynamite Girls on the Integrity Toys website explains that “These cuties live in a world of candy-colored, retro inspired styles, influenced by current trends and pop culture.”
Director Dave Wilson states in the “Making of” video that "Being able to work with the Sugarbabes' 'Freedom' as a soundtrack for the piece lent itself to the empowered personas that we'd created for the dolls." Thus, while the Sugarbabes exult:
So raise your hand
balled fist in the air
the dolls raise their fists in a gesture that mimics the black power salute. Yet neither the Dynamite Girls collections nor the Nokia “Freedom” commercial references the blood red sacrifices that freedom fighters in the Civil Rights movement and various struggles for independence from European colonial domination were making in the heyday of the “flip” hairdo that Jett sports in the commercial.
Instead, the casting has curiously erased people of color from this celebration of “freedom” despite the fact that the Sugababes have remained a multi-ethnic, multi-racial group through multiple personnel changes, and Integrity Toys was founded in part to provide multi-ethnic alternatives to Barbie. There are three black doll characters in the Dynamite Girls line – Reese, T.J., and Dayle, while Aria is described as a “proud Latina,” but none of them appears in the “world of hot pink and the glamour that goes with it” that Wilson created.
The Huffington Post and other reviewers identify this commercial as an attempt to market smart phones to a more female audience (“Nokia Uses Dismembered Barbies to Pitch New Nokia N8 Pink” but in defining freedom as “being alive/ not having a care…” and depicting it as a luxury that only pink people enjoy, Nokia has overlooked a major market segment for as the July 2010 Pew Internet report on “Mobile Access” notes,
minority Americans are significantly more likely to own a cell phone than their white counterparts (87% of blacks and Hispanics own a cell phone, compared with 80% of whites). Additionally, black and Latino cell phone owners take advantage of a much wider array of their phones’ data functions compared to white cell phone owners.With 76% of non-Hispanic blacks and 83% of English-speaking Hispanic respondents in the Pew 2010 survey reporting that they had used their cell phones to take a photo in the past year as compared to 75% of whites, Nokia’s casting oversight is particularly egregious given that the N8’s greatest strength is its still photo and HD video functions. 48% of non-Hispanic blacks and 45% of English-speaking Hispanic respondents as compared to 29% of non-Hispanic whites had used their phones to record video and on average twice as many black and Hispanic cell phone owners compared to white cell phone owners had used their phones to watch videos. Thus Nokia overlooked the audience most likely to be excited about viewing the “Freedom” video and using the features of the phone it promotes.
Although Steve Hall quips, “pink is the new success. Or success is the new pink,” the Nokia N8 Pink “Freedom” video obviously does not represent an advance towards a more colorblind society. Whether the vision of “contorted Barbie dolls, prancing about in Lady Gaga-esque undergarments” as Engadget’s Christopher Trout describes the video used to promote this gendered phone signals an era of new freedom for women is a more complex question which I hope to discuss with readers in subsequent posts.