Barbie on the Leaving Cert: 'It’s not dumbing down the curriculum'

The blockbuster will be joined by 'The Banshees of Inisherin' as part of new film options for students
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

15.03 19 Feb 2024

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Barbie on the Leaving Cert: 'I...

Barbie on the Leaving Cert: 'It’s not dumbing down the curriculum'

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

15.03 19 Feb 2024

Share this article

Plans to include the Barbie film in the Leaving Certificate won't be 'dumbing down' the State exam, a DCU professor has said.

The blockbuster will be joined by The Banshees of Inisherin as part of new film options for students.

It's thought the feminist message of Barbie will be one of the areas for exploration.


DCU School of English Assistant Professor Dr Ellen Howley told Moncrieff there has been no big change in nearly 20 years.

"It seems to have been around the year 2000 since there was the last big shake-up of the Leaving Cert, and film was included there," she said.

"One of the things they do on the course is to think about film as a genre - what is particular when we talk about film, what kind of things are we interested in looking at? How is it different from literature?

"It's an artform in and of itself and I think there's real value that students get an opportunity to study that and think about film in the same way that they might think about a novel or a play".

Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in Warner Bros' Barbie. Ryan Gosling and Margot Robbie in Warner Bros' Barbie. Image: PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy

Dr Howley said the films are used as comparators to other works.

"There's things like Pride and Prejudice on there, Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, Claire Keegan's Small Things Like These. 

"So you're kind of placing the Barbie film in conversation with some of these other works.

Students are looking at the film itself - what are you actually seeing as you watch it, how is a scene set up, what kind of colours are there, how do the actors interact?

"You're really thinking about film a as a particular artform".

'Other forms of art'

Responding to listener texts, Dr Howley denied Barbie was 'dumbing down' the curriculum.

"A whole range of films are on there - things like The Shawshank Redemption, On the Waterfront, The Grand Budapest Hotel.

"So, I don't think Barbie dumbs down the curriculum by the fact that it's there.

"You're asking students to think in a particular way about film and then think about it in relation to another text.

"You could be studying John B Keane alongside that; you could be studying Daphne Du Maurier... there's a whole range of authors there.

"Arts operates on a continuum and if we're only really challenging stuff then we're not thinking about other forms of art and we need to interrogate those forms as well".

Dr Howley said a comparative point could be made around how feminism is treated by Barbie and Pride and Prejudice.

"You might take that speech from America Ferrera that talks about women and the harshness that's placed on women's lives - and that might be compared with, in Pride and Prejudice, the fact that the woman have to get married in order to be able to survive," she said.

"Their mother is worried about them having somewhere to live, having money.

"So, the concerns are different but maybe there's a point of connection between those two scenes," she added.

Dr Howley said while she doesn't think it's Greta Gerwig's best film, it raises good questions around feminism and gender.

Main image: A scene from the 2023 Barbie film. Image: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy

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America Ferrera Barbie Dr Ellen Howley Leaving Cert Leaving Certificate English Syllabus Link In Bio Moncrieff Pride And Prejudice The Banshees Of Inisherin The Shawshank Redemption

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