‘Barbie’ Movie Banned In Vietnam For Wading Into Disputed Waters With Map Depiction

Warner Bros.’ upcoming movie “Barbie” has faced a ban in Vietnam due to its depiction of a controversial maritime border. Now, the Philippines has also weighed in on the matter. The movie, directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie, inadvertently waded into a political mess by including the depiction of the “nine-dash line” on a map in the film.

The “nine-dash line” is a dotted line used by China to demarcate its borders in the South China Sea, a region where Southeast Asian countries, including Vietnam and the Philippines, have territorial disputes. The international community, including the United States, also challenges China’s claims in the area. In 2016, the Philippines won a landmark case in the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) when it ruled that China’s claims to the South China Sea had “no legal basis.”

“The movie is fiction, and so is the nine-dash line. At the minimum, our cinemas should include an explicit disclaimer that the nine-dash line is a figment of China’s imagination,” said Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros said last week.

In the movie’s full-length trailer, several maps with borders are shown. One map represents Barbie Land, a fictional city surrounded by pink clouds shaped like a heart. Another map, pointed out by Vietnamese entertainment writer Nguyên Lê, depicts the real world and features wacky shapes and labels for each continent. Alongside the coast of what should be China, dashes extend into the ocean, reminiscent of the disputed “nine-dash line.”

The nine-dash line originated in the late 1940’s when China published a map showing a U-shaped line encompassing over 80% of the South China Sea. China claims historical rights within this zone, including islands and archipelagos, while Southeast Asian countries contest these claims. The South China Sea is a crucial trade and fishing area, as well as a potential source of oil and gas reserves. China’s island-building activities in the region have resulted in military clashes with Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as tensions with the United States.

Vietnam banned the film, scheduled for a July 21 release, citing its depiction of the “nine-dash line” as an illegal claim over the East Vietnam Sea. The Philippine government has placed the film under review but has not disclosed the reason for doing so. 

Previously, films such as “Abominable” and “Uncharted” were banned in Vietnam for similar map depictions. The Philippine government called for a boycott of “Abominable” but did not enforce a ban.

Although some Vietnamese moviegoers have suggested censoring the contentious map, it remains uncertain if Warner Bros. would consider editing the film and if Vietnam would lift the ban under those circumstances.

The fate of “Barbie” in the Philippines meanwhile was spared an outright ban, with the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board stating in a release that “considering the context by which the cartoonish map of the character “Weird Barbie” was portrayed in the film, the Review Committee is convinced that the contentious scene does not depict the “nine-dash line.”

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