Offending sea map appears in multiple scenes in ‘Barbie’: Vietnamese film council

The department did not officially specify the offending scenes, but fans were quick to link the ban to a potential scene in the trailer for the movie.

Viet Nam News

Viet Nam News



The drawn map used in the trailer for "Barbie" where China's nine-dash line claim over the South China Sea was claimed to be featured, resulting in its ban in Việt Nam. — Screengrab from the trailer

July 10, 2023

HÀ NỘI — China’s unilateral, controversial nine-dash line demarcation appeared multiple times in the movie Barbie, justifying its ban in Việt Nam, censors have told Vietnam News Agency on Friday.

The Department of Cinema (under the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism) earlier on Monday announced that the screening of the much-anticipated summer flick Barbie will not be allowed in Việt Nam as it features a map containing the “cow-tongue,” the informal name for China’s claims over the East Sea (known internationally as the South China Sea).

The movie was directed by Greta Gerwig and was originally scheduled to start showing on July 21 before being shelved.

The department did not officially specify the offending scenes. However, cinema fans on social media were quick to link the ban to one potential scene in the trailer for the movie, where the main character played by Margot Robbi stands in front of a drawing of a map of the world.

Debates have broken out over whether this map really contains the nine-dash line as the countries and territories depicted were clearly not realistic, as well as whether this scene was the culprit for the ban as the movie has not yet been released so there is no telling for sure.

Trần Thanh Hiệp, chairman of the National Film Evaluation Council, confirmed that the “offending map appeared multiple times throughout the movie, in multiple different scenes, and not just the one being shared widely on social media.”

Hiệp also stated that the map is unclear, which could “lead to misinterpretation under scrutiny, and the violation is already clear.”

Hiệp also referred to the nine-dash line used in the Uncharted movie, which also resulted in its ban from showing in Việt Nam in March 2022.

“The violation in Barbie is more subtle,” he noted.

“China has more than one billion people and producers really need this market. Some people think that if there is a ‘cow’s tongue line’, it should be cut out, but the act of allowing the screening of the film already means acceptance of the film,” he said, clearly rejecting the possibility of permitting the screening if the offending scenes are removed.

“Việt Nam’s stance has been clear. It does not accept movies that are ambiguous in matters related to territorial sovereignty,” said the head of the national film evaluation council.

The scene with China’s nine-dash line in ‘Uncharted’ (2022). — Photo

The response from Vietnamese authorities came after Warner Bros. studio, the film’s producer and distributor, defended the use of the map as a “child-like crayon drawing” with no intended meaning.

“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,” a representative from the studio told Reuters.

Việt Nam along with other countries in Southeast Asia have on multiple times rejected the validity of the assertive Chinese claims that overlap much of their sovereignty in the resource-rich South China Sea.

An international tribunal in the Hague also invalidated China’s legal basis for the egregious, unilateral claims in a landmark ruling delivered in 2016.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Phạm Thu Hằng, during the Thursday press briefing, stated that “the promotion and usage of products or publications featuring the nine-dash line in Việt Nam are in violation of the law,” when asked for a response over the ban of Barbie and the use of the controversial map on a tour organiser for BlackPink concert in Hà Nội in late July

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