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The Barbie Controversy



Barbie is a fantasy comedy film written and directed by Greta Gerwig based on the well-known fashion dolls by Mattel. Margot Robbie's Barbie movie caused international controversy and raised questions among its viewers as it recognised an Asian political conflict. The conflict has sparked discussions among some countries regarding the commercial release of the movie in their region.


South-east Asian countries voiced their disapproval due to the portrayal of the disputed "nine-dash line "which depicts the territorial claims of China over the South China Sea. Vietnamese and Philippines authorities considered a ban on the recent Barbie movie which was cemented by the reaction. Vietnam among other nations has stated that the depiction of the Chinese territorial claims through the portrayal of the "nine-dash line "is a violation of their sovereignty.


The state-run newspaper Tuoi Tre reported, "We do not consent to a license for the American movie 'Barbie' to release in Vietnam because it contains the offending image of the nine-dash line. Following Vietnam's ban, the Philippines has also been contemplating a ban on the movie due to the characterization of the disputed Sea lines.


Senator Francis Tolentino, vice chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, stated, “If the invalidated 9-dash line was indeed depicted in the movie ‘Barbie,’ then it is incumbent upon the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) to ban the same as it denigrates Philippine sovereignty.” The MTRCB confirmed that they are reviewing the film's classification but did not provide any further clarifications.


However, a complete ban on the movie is not the only option being considered. Both Vietnam and Philippines are open to compromise such as omitting the scene or editing the map. An alternative possibility discussed for the Philippine cinemas is to put up a direct disclaimer stating that the nine-dash line is a figment of China's imagination according to Senator Risa Hontiveros. China and neighbouring countries have controversial claims over the region as the South China Sea contains crucial shipping lanes, abundant fishing grounds, and valuable mineral resources.


In 2016, the United States Dispute Resolution Tribunal unanimously ruled against the claim of China over the South Sea, but concrete implementation has not been executed to uphold the decision and China has publicly asserted that they don't recognise the ruling. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said, “China’s position on the South China Sea issue is clear and consistent, should not link the South China Sea issue with normal cultural exchange.”


In the past, the MTRCB blocked the release of the film "Uncharted" in the Philippines due to similar concerns. DreamWorks' animated film "Abominable" was banned in Vietnam for featuring disputed maps. Furthermore, television series such as "Put Your Head on My Shoulders" and "Madam Secretary" were required to delete scenes containing contentious maps.


Barbie is set to hit theatres worldwide on Friday July 21, 2023.

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