This Scene Got the ‘Barbie’ Movie Banned in Vietnam – The Philippines Might be Next

Published: Nov 22, 2023

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie has received much attention recently because of one scene that’s made some countries rather unhappy. Vietnam and other countries are less than thrilled with the controversial nine dashes depicted on a world map in the film (although the map only shows eight dashed lines).

The Warner Bros. movie follows Margot Robbie as the famous Barbie doll who leaves behind her life in Barbieland and goes on an adventure into the Real World. The much-anticipated film hasn’t even opened in theaters yet – and it’s already stirring up a heated discussion.

Its Release Status Is Under Review

The controversy surrounding what’s known as the nine-dash line (also called the “U-shaped line”) symbolizes the demarcation of territory in the South China Sea that both Vietnam and China claim they own. Several of the neighboring countries to Beijing say these claims are harmful to their sovereignty.

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Another Southeast Asia Nation aside from Vietnam may potentially ban Gerwig’s movie. The Philippines’ Movie and Television Review and Classification Board posted a notice confirming the movie’s status as under review.

The film regulator didn’t disclose the reasoning for reviewing the movie – and they didn’t answer when it would be shown in theaters domestically, which was supposed to be on July 19. 

The Philippine Senator Wants To Block The Film's Release

Francis Tolentino, the Senator of the Philippines, prompted the film’s review, proposing that the film regulator block the movie because of the map. Tolentino stated his reasoning for blocking the release in the country – he believes it “denigrates Philippine sovereignty.”

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Tolentino told CNN Philippines: “This will not just be injurious to the Republic of the Philippines, but it would be contrary to what our country fought for and achieved under the Arbitral Ruling in 2016.” Neighboring countries are angry over China’s refusal to recognize the 2016 ruling as they continue to build artificial islands and regulate large sections of significant waterways.

All About A Map

The map under fire appears briefly in a scene where Robbie’s Barbie is at another Barbie’s house, asking for help with a crisis she’s experiencing. The map is placed in a vibrantly-colored house which appears to portray the map with the nine-dash line extending from what’s presumably China. 

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Source: Warner Bros. Pictures/ YouTube

Showing this dashed line is “crass capitalism” says Jose Antonio Custodio, a Philippine military historian. While it might be favorable to Beijing, it’s not that way for others. He shared with NPR: “Because precisely it legitimizes China’s illegal claims on the entire South China Sea, which not one government around the world supports. Most specifically, the United States itself.”

“So to have an American company legitimize what the Chinese are doing is patently outrageous,” Custodio continued. 

Taking Out The Controversial Scene Might Be The Answer

According to Senator Tolentino, editing out the scene in contention might alleviate the tension over the dashed line (and could serve as a “middle ground” for the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board and the film’s producers). However, this move could upset China, which has already approved Barbie for release.

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Source: Warner Bros. Pictures/ YouTube

The movie is expected to perform much better in China than in other Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and the Philippines, even though a Hollywood hit could “earn anywhere from $5 million to over $10 million each country” in those markets, per The Hollywood Reporter.

Vietnam Has Banned Other Films

Vietnam’s National Film Evaluation Council banned all domestic Barbie screenings over the map scene earlier this week. 

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The Barbie movie isn’t the first to experience this backlash in Vietnam, as Sony’s 2022 action blockbuster Uncharted was axed for showing a scene with China’s nine-dash line. Other films banned in Vietnam include the 2019 animated film Abominable and the 2021 movie Pine Gap.

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