Descendant of Frida Kahlo objects to special edition Barbie doll

There has been recent conflict between a relative of artist Frida Kahlo and Mattel, the toy maker, in relation to the rights to the image of the deceased artist. The toy manufacturer created a Barbie doll based on Kahlo as part of their “Inspiring Women” range.

The Mexican artist was famous for her self-portraits that featured her ever-present unibrow. She became a feminist icon and, since her death in 1954, her image has been featured on a vast array of consumer products including tequila and lip gloss.

Mattel worked closely with the Frida Kahlo Corporation to design the doll. In a statement, the company said that “Mattel has its [the Corporation’s] permission and a legal contract that grants it the rights to make a doll of the great Frida Kahlo”. The corporation said it obtained the rights more than a decade ago via Kahlo’s niece, Isolda Pinedo Kahlo.

Since the doll’s release, Mara Romeo, great-niece of Frida Kahlo, has alleged that Mattel did not have the rights to Kahlo’s image. However, it seems from the complaint that the issue may be more about the appearance of the doll than the rights to produce one per se. Romeo is unhappy with the doll because its appearance dilutes some of the famous artist’s most iconic characteristics. The Barbie doll does not feature Kahlo’s famous dark unibrow, has a lighter skin colour and does not wear the Tehuana-style dress the artist most commonly wore. In a statement given by her lawyer, Romeo said that she would rather have Mattel negotiate about redesigning the doll, than seek any monetary compensation.

The Frida Kahlo Barbie doll was released alongside other inspirational icons, both historic and modern day, to mark International Women’s Day. Dolls include famous pilot Amelia Earhart, and Katherine Johnson who broke race and gender barriers in her role at NASA as a mathematician. Information is provided with the dolls to educate consumers about the impact each person has made to society and their contributions to history.

Barbie have commonly been criticised for creating the idea of unrealistic body images and luxury lifestyles to their young target market. In January 2016, however, Mattel released a range of new dolls that incorporated different body types in their attempt to promote healthy and realistic body image. The release of the “Inspiring Women” range will no doubt add to the diversity Mattel are trying to introduce to the Barbie range.

If you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to contact the team at McDaniel & Co. on 0191 281 4000 or legal@mcdanielslaw.com.