15 Black Icons Who Inspired Their Own Barbie Dolls

From actors to activists and beyond.

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Yara Shahidi Barbie Doll

Since her debut back in 1959, Mattel’s Barbie has been a role model for millions. And while she was represented as everything from a surgeon to an Olympic athlete, it wasn’t until 1980 that young Black women everywhere could see themselves in her physical likeness. Barbie was famously friends with Christie, a Black doll that was released in 1968 (with Julia and Cara to follow), but it took another decade for a trio of Mattel employees — Beulah Mae Mitchell, Kitty Black Perkins, and Stacey McBride Irby — to finally launch a dark-skinned doll with Barbie’s actual moniker. Just in time for Juneteenth, Netflix is releasing Black Barbie, a documentary that tells these groundbreaking womens’ stories, and it includes feedback from some Black icons who weren’t just inspired by the toy growing up — they’d later go on to have dolls created in their likeness.

Over the past 40-plus years, Barbie evolved past simply offering dark-skinned versions of her white counterpart to embody aspirational figures throughout history — from civil rights leaders to trans activists. The documentary chats with a few such women, including award-winning producer and screenwriter Shonda Rhimes (who also executive produced the film), professional ballet dancer Misty Copeland, and world-class fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, but there have been many more that have kept up Barbie’s original mission to offer someone young people can look up to.

In celebration of the legacy Mitchell, Perkins, and Irby began decades ago, TZR is spotlighting 15 of the Black icons who inspired their own Barbie. Ahead learn a bit more about each one, including what made Mattel want to memorialize them.

Ida B. Wells

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Wells was an investigative journalist and activist who dedicated her life to educating others on civil rights and women’s suffrage and was one of the cofounders of the NAACP. Her Barbie was launched in 2022, as part of Mattel’s Inspiring Women Series and it features the pioneer holding a Memphis Free Speech newspaper, the publication she co-owned.

Rosa Parks

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Civil rights activist Parks became one of the most prominent voices against segregation when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in 1955. This lead to a Montgomery bus boycott that lasted over a year and ultimately helped rule such segregation as unconstitutional under federal law. The Barbie inspired by Parks was released in 2019, also part of Mattel’s Inspiring Women Series, and it was designed to capture her quiet strength.

Ella Fitzgerald

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Award-winning jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald was made into doll form in 2020, when her Barbie was released as part of the Inspiring Women Series. The glamorous doll was designed to include a microphone stand, emblematic of her status as the “First Lady of Song.”

Dr. Maya Angelou

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Poet and author Dr. Maya Angelou was widely celebrated for her literary achievements, which spoke to her experiences with racism and sexism. Among her impressive list of honors is Presidential Medal of Freedom as well as the National Medal of Arts. She’s also earned honorary degrees from institutions like Smith College, Howard University, Northwestern University, and many more. Barbie added Angelou to the Inspiring Women Series in 2021, and her doll proudly holds a copy of her 1969 autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Katherine Johnson

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Mathematician Katherine Johnson was hired by NASA in 1953, and along with a handful of equally impressive women employed there, she was instrumental in helping Apollo astronauts return from their voyage to the moon. Her story inspired the film Hidden Figures in 2016, and two years later Mattel honored Johnson with her Barbie likeness, which they included in the brand’s Inspiring Women Series.

Tina Turner

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Grammy-winning, record-breaking artist Tina Turner was an icon for so many reasons — her hit songs, her passionate performance style, her memorable fashions. So it was no surprise that Mattel chose to memorialize her back in 2022, as part of its Barbie Signature Music Series. The doll’s denim jacket and leather skirt was an exact recreation of the outfit Turner wore in the “What’s Love Got to Do with It” video from 1984.

Diana Ross

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Diana Ross has been one of the most iconic voices in music history, crossing genres from Motown to Disco and beyond. Part of her allure is also her aspirational glamour and style, and that’s perfectly encapsulated by her collector’s edition Barbie. Launched in 2003 as part of the Bob Mackie-designed series, her doll wears a white satin mermaid gown with silver embellishment.

Shonda Rhimes


Creator of such hit shows as Bridgerton, Grey’s Anatomy, and Scandal, Rhimes elevated storytelling in television and changed the landscape for good. Her Barbie, who wears a multicolored Carolina Herrera gown, was launched in celebration of International Women’s Day 2022 and is included in Mattel’s Barbie Role Model series.

Misty Copeland


Prima ballerina Misty Copeland made history as the first Black woman to be named principal dancer at the prestigious American Ballet Theatre back in 2015. Just one year later, Barbie honored her achievements with a doll in her likeness. Copeland’s Barbie depicts her in a red leotard with tulle train and headpiece and she’s designed to be shifted into various poses that represent the dancer’s graceful style.

Ibtihaj Muhammad


Not only did the Olympic athlete inspire women — especially Black women — everywhere by winning a bronze medal in 2016, but she also made history as the first United States Olympian to compete in a hijab. When Mattel created her doll as part of its “Sheroes” collection in 2018, they were sure to include the traditional Muslim head covering (in addition to her U.S. fencing team uniform, mask, and saber) to honor this major moment of representation.

Issa Rae

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The Insecure star and creator didn’t just play President Barbie in the 2023 film directed by Greta Gerwig — she actually inspired her very own doll. Along with Ryan Gosling’s Ken, America Ferrera’s Gloria, and Margot Robbie in various Barbie styles, the doll was launched as part of Mattel’s Barbie the Movie series and depicts her in a glamorous pink and gold dress complete with a “President” sash.

Naomi Osaka


Japanese tennis phenom Naomi Osaka turned pro at just 16 years old, and has been considered #1 in the word by the Women’s Tennis Association with a laundry list of records and achievements under her belt. In celebration of her talents, Mattel added Osaka’s likeness to its Barbie Role Model series in 2021. Her doll features the Nike ambassador in her pink and blue brushstroke print tennis dress from the 2020 Australian Open.

Yara Shahidi

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In 2019, Mattel celebrated the Grown-ish star’s efforts to empower young voters back in 2019 with a Barbie wearing an exact copy of the gray suit and “Vote” t-shirt Shahidi wore to the We Vote Next Summit a year prior. They even rereleased the “Sheroes” collection doll in 2020 to encourage participating in the presidential election.

Laverne Cox

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Actor, producer, and LGBTQIA+ advocate Laverne Cox made history as the first transgender woman of color to have a leading role on a scripted TV show (Orange Is the New Black) back in 2013. Nearly a decade later she broke records again as the first trans women to inspire her own Barbie. Part of Mattel’s Barbie Signature collection, Cox’s doll actually influenced her sartorial selection for Barbie’s 50th birthday, where she showed up in a life-sized version of the figurine’s red tulle gown.


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2024 Zendaya has accomplished so much — from Emmys and BET Awards to leading roles in blockbuster films. But even back in 2015 she was so inspiring that Mattel wanted to create a Barbie in her honor. Donning her white Vivienne Westwood dress and beaded locs from that year’s Academy Awards, the doll was deeply meaningful to the actor who shared a powerful message on her Instagram to commemorate the release: “When I was little I couldn't find a Barbie that looked like me, my...how times have changed. Thank you @barbie for this honor and for allowing me to be apart of your diversification and expansion of the definition of beauty.”