During her lifetime, Maya Angelou was honoured with the US’s highest civilian honour, receiving the presidential medal of freedom from Barack Obama, as well as the national medal of arts from Bill Clinton. Now tribute is being paid to the late poet and civil rights activist from a less presidential sphere: toy manufacturer Mattel has announced that Angelou is to become a Barbie doll.
The new Barbie, whose face is “sculpted to Dr Angelou’s likeness” and who is wearing a head-wrap, jewellery and floral print dress on its “curvy body”, joins Rosa Parks and Florence Nightingale in the “Inspiring Women” series of Barbie dolls.
Mattel described Angelou as a “fitting addition” to the line, which is intended to celebrate “women who took risks, changed rules and paved the way for generations of girls to dream bigger than ever before”.
It praised her 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as “a gripping account of overcoming adversity in her early life”, and highlighted how, in 1993, she became the first African American and female poet to speak at a US presidential inauguration. “It was a remarkable tribute to her literary legacy and brought worldwide attention to her body of work,” said Mattel.
Angelou’s son, Guy Johnson, told Today he was delighted his mother had been chosen to become a Barbie, adding that he hoped the doll would “inspire new generations of teachers, writers and activists”.
“My mother was a pioneer and an activist with an invincible spirit for justice,” he said. “Through her words and actions, she developed a unique ability to create deep connections with people around the world. She used to say, ‘I write from the black perspective, but I aim for the human heart.’”
Mattel said that it was committing to featuring black, indigenous and other women of colour as more than 50% of its dolls, based on global role models.
The Angelou doll will be sold for $29.99 (£22), with a limit of two dolls per person. However, it has already sold out online, with shoppers complaining about the numbers of dolls produced. “As a collector of African American Barbie dolls, I am very disappointed that this doll is not available less than five days [after] being released,” wrote one customer.