Map that triggered Vietnam ‘Barbie’ ban was ‘child-like’ drawing, Warner Bros says

Paul Eckert for RFA
Map that triggered Vietnam ‘Barbie’ ban was ‘child-like’ drawing, Warner Bros says Margot Robbie, star of the film “Barbie,” stands in front of the map that caused the Vietnamese government to ban the film.
Screenshot from Warner Bros Pictures “Barbie” movie

Warner Bros on Friday said a supposed depiction of a map of the South China Sea that prompted Vietnam to ban the upcoming “Barbie” movie was a “child-like crayon drawing” that carried no political message.

Vietnam announced early this week it had banned distribution of “Barbie” because its trailer includes a map that appeared to take China’s side in an emotive maritime territorial dispute.

The decision to scrap the planned July 21 release of the Warner Bros feature film, starring Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as her boyfriend Ken, was made by the Central Council of Feature Film Evaluation and Classification, according to media in Hanoi.

The image that caused offense shows Robbie standing in front of a cartoon map containing roughly sketched islands and continents with dashes in several parts of the oceans, including eight dashes off the shore of a large landmass labeled “Asia.”

“The promotion and use of publications and products with the ‘nine-dash line’ is a violation and is not accepted in Vietnam,” Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Pham Thu Hang said Thursday, reiterating Hanoi’s complaint.

Warner Bros. denied the fleeting image had any political intention.

“The map in Barbie Land is a whimsical, child-like crayon drawing,” Warner Bros. said in a statement quoted by entertainment industry news outlet Variety on Friday. “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.”

The nine-dash line is a boundary used by Beijing on its maps to demarcate territorial claims over most of the South China Sea, including sections of the waterway that fall within areas claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries. Vietnam calls China’s map a “cow’s tongue” that reaches way down into Southeast Asia.

Following Vietnam’s ban of the movie, the Philippine Movie and Television Review and Classification Board said it was also reviewing whether to approve the release of the film in cinemas.

BlackPink show to go on

The line – often literally consisting of nine dashes on a map encompassing the entire South China Sea – includes the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands.

“Barbie” is far from the first Hollywood or independent feature to run afoul of Hanoi’s Communist government.

In 2019, Vietnam halted showings of the DreamWorks film “Abominable” over a scene that showed the “nine-dash line” and drew an outcry among viewers. Netflix offerings including “Pine Gap,” “Madam Secretary,” and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” also ran afoul of Hanoi over the sea map.

07 barbie-inside.jpg
The K-Pop group BlackPink, shown in 2019, will play its two Hanoi dates as planned after its tour promoter headed off its own “nine-dash-line” controversy. [Amy Harris/Invision/AP]

China itself has a history of pressuring foreign entertainment outfits, retailers, fashion firms, hotels and airlines over perceived misrepresentation of its borders, including that with self-governing Taiwan, over which Beijing claims sovereignty.

While Vietnam’s moviegoers will have to miss “Barbie,” fans of K-Pop in the nation of 98 million will apparently get to see the best-selling girl group BlackPink later this month.

Earlier this week it appeared that the South Korean quartet’s “Born Pink World Tour Hanoi” could suffer a boycott if not a ban after reports the “nine-dash line” was posted on the website of its Vietnamese promoter. Vietnam cultural authorities said they would investigate the incident.

But the China-based tour promoter, iMe Entertainment, issued an explanation and an apology, according to Vietnamese state media, and the allegedly offending image was removed. 

Two Hanoi concert dates – July 29 and 30 – remain on BlackPink’s website and tickets are available.


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