Vietnam bans ‘Barbie’ movie due to an illustration showing China’s territorial claim

Posters advertising ‘Barbie’ were removed from movie distributors’ websites after Monday’s decision

July 04, 2023 11:21 am | Updated 11:21 am IST - HANOI

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Margot Robbie in a scene from “Barbie.”

This image released by Warner Bros. Pictures shows Margot Robbie in a scene from “Barbie.” | Photo Credit: AP

Vietnam's state media have reported that the government banned the distribution of the popular Barbie movie because it includes a view of a map showing disputed Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea.

The newspaper Vietnam Express and other media said posters advertising Barbie were removed from movie distributors’ websites after Monday’s decision. With Margot Robbie playing Barbie opposite Ryan Gosling’s Ken in Greta Gerwig’s comedic look at their “perfect” world, Barbie was supposed to open July 21 in Vietnamese theaters.

The reports cited Vi Kien Thanh, director general of the Vietnam Cinema Department, as saying the National Film Evaluation Council made the decision. It said a map in the film shows China’s “nine-dash line,” which extends Beijing’s territorial claims far into waters that fall within areas claimed by Vietnam and other countries.

The “nine-dash line” is an arcane but sensitive issue for China and its neighbours that depicts Beijing’s claims to sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, which Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines reject.

An international court ruled in 2016 that the “nine-dash line” has no basis in law and the Philippines was entitled to an exclusive economic zone in part of the area claimed by Beijing. China rejected the ruling.

China says the vast majority of the South China Sea lies within its “nine-dash line,” which it uses to demarcate what it considers its maritime border. That has brought it into tense standoffs with the ASEAN nations of Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines, with Chinese fishing boats and military vessels becoming more aggressive in the disputed waters.

Companies whose advertising or other illustrations contradict Beijing's claims are caught in the middle, potentially facing a severe backlash from Chinese customers and protests from the Chinese government.

Warner Bros. offices were closed Tuesday for the July 4 holiday.

In 2019, Vietnam ordered showings of Abominable cancelled after moviegoers complained about a scene showing the “nine-dash line.” Politicians in the Philippines called for a boycott of all DreamWorks releases to protest the scene, and Malaysia ordered the scene to be cut from the movie.

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