Studio defends Barbie movie after controversial map prompts Vietnam ban

Warner Bros says map is ‘child-like’ after Vietnam accused film-makers of depicting China’s nine-dash line in South China Sea

Warner Bros has described a map that appears in its coming Barbie movie as a “child-like crayon drawing” with no intended meaning, after Vietnam said it would ban the film after claiming the map depicted the disputed South China Sea.

The Barbie movie provoked controversy in both Vietnam and the Philippines over its inclusion of the map that apparently features China’s “nine-dash line”. The line marks China’s claim to much of the South China Sea – a demarcation opposed by Vietnam and other south-east Asian countries and which was repudiated by an international tribunal in The Hague in 2016.

Warner Bros defended the map and suggested in a statement published by Reuters that it carried no significant meaning. “The map in Barbie Land is a whimsical, child-like crayon drawing,” the studio said. “The doodles depict Barbie’s make-believe journey from Barbie Land to the real world. It was not intended to make any type of statement.”

Barbie was due to be released in Vietnam on 21 July, according to local media, which reported that its screenings would no longer go ahead, and that posters advertising the film had been removed from movie distributors’ websites.

Some senators in the Philippines have called for Barbie to be banned, or for a form of disclaimer to be added to counter the map. The film is currently being considered by the Philippines’ Movie and Television Review and Classification Board.

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

On Thursday it was reported that Vietnam’s authorities would also inspect the website of K-pop group Blackpink’s tour operator, after it was alleged it featured a map that displayed the “nine-dash line”, which runs close to Vietnam’s coast and includes much of what Vietnam considers its continental shelf.

Vietnam and the Philippines have frequently banned films and TV dramas over their depictions of the South China Sea. In 2021 Australian spy drama Pine Gap was banned in Vietnam, while two episodes were removed in the Philippines. The DreamWorks’s animated film Abominable was also pulled from cinemas in both countries in 2019, as was the action movie Uncharted last year.

The Philippines and Vietnam are both on the frontlines of the dispute over the South China Sea, a resource rich and strategically important waterway and one of the busiest trading routes in the world.

The Philippine Coast Guard and representatives of the fishing community have frequently complained about harassment by Chinese vessels. Earlier this year the Philippine president, Ferdinand Marcos, summoned the Chinese ambassador to express serious concern after a Chinese coastguard ship was accused of directing a “military-grade laser light” at a Philippine ship.

A group that represents Philippine fisherfolk said it was less bothered about the Barbie movie, and called for other forms of government action to protect the Philippines’ rights in the sea.

“The Marcos administration would appear much tougher if it directly confronts China every time the latter causes an untoward incident in our territorial waters, rather than picking on a fictional film,” Pamalakaya’s chair, Fernando Hicap, told local media this week.

China is sensitive about portrayals of its territorial claims and has pressured companies, including hotel groups and airlines, to list Taiwan – a democratic and self-governing island – as part of China.

The freedom of expression group PEN America has previously raised concerns that Hollywood studios, keen to access the lucrative Chinese market, have changed or censored aspects of their films in an “effort to avoid antagonising Chinese officials”.


Rebecca Ratcliffe in Bangkok and agencies

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
China building airstrip on disputed island, satellite images suggest
Pictures appear to show 600-metre runway on South China Sea’s Triton Island, which is also claimed by Vietnam and Taiwan

Rebecca Ratcliffe and agencies

17, Aug, 2023 @5:26 AM

Article image
Vietnam holds live-fire exercises as territorial dispute with China escalates

Beijing warns other regional powers not to become involved in row over South China Sea islands and surrounding waters

Tania Branigan in Beijing and agencies

14, Jun, 2011 @3:16 PM

Article image
China attacks international court after South China Sea ruling
Beijing warns of possible military escalation after UN tribunal overwhelmingly rejects its claims to ownership of strategic waterway

Tom Phillips in Beijing

13, Jul, 2016 @6:39 AM

Article image
Beijing brushes off US criticism of its tough new fishing rules
The Chinese are demanding foreign crews get permits before fishing the South China Sea, upsetting neighbouring countries

Tania Branigan in Beijing

10, Jan, 2014 @3:44 PM

Article image
Competition over the South China Sea explained in 30 seconds
China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan all have claims over the area, and tensions often threaten to boil over

Helen Davidson

08, Sep, 2023 @2:06 AM

Article image
Beijing rejects tribunal's ruling in South China Sea case
Xi Jinping says China’s ‘territorial sovereignty and marine rights’ in the seas will not be affected

Tom Phillips in Beijing, Oliver Holmes in Bangkok and Owen Bowcott

12, Jul, 2016 @5:21 PM

Article image
Photos show Beijing’s militarisation of South China Sea in new detail
China accused of building ‘island fortresses’ as Philippine newspaper obtains aerial images

Tom Phillips in Beijing

06, Feb, 2018 @10:09 AM

Article image
Despite oil rig removal, China and Vietnam row still simmers

Withdrawal of rig welcomed by Hanoi and Washington, but observers still fear escalation of conflict over South China Sea

Kate Hodal, South China Sea

17, Jul, 2014 @6:17 PM

Article image
China accuses Vietnam of ramming its ships in South China Sea

Chinese ships have been firing water cannons at Vietnam vessels trying to stop Beijing from putting an oil rig 240km off Vietnam coast

Jonathan Kaiman in Beijing and agencies

08, May, 2014 @2:46 PM

Article image
Philippines accuses China of water cannon attack in Spratly Islands
Latest in long history of nautical intimidations by Beijing, which lays unrecognised claim to almost all of the South China Sea

Staff and agencies in Manila

06, Aug, 2023 @4:30 AM