In the battle to become the political heavyweight movie of the summer, one movie has already emerged triumphant — and it’s not the one about the building of the atomic bomb. Following the, let’s be honest, stunning news that Vietnam has banned the movie and reports that the Philippines might do the same, Greta Gerwig’s upcoming Barbie has firmly established itself as the dominant political touchstone of the season.
Vietnam’s decision to ban commercial screenings of the Warner Bros. movie — which were set to begin July 21 — is, according to a statement given by the country’s Department of Cinema to the Washington Post, due to the appearance of a map in the movie that appears to depict China’s disputed territorial claims in the South China Sea — a claim also made by a number of other countries, notably including Vietnam and the Philippines.
In a statement explaining the banning of the movie, Vi Kien Thanh, head of the Department of Cinema, said that the movie featured an “offensive scene that shows the cow tongue line,” which would appear to be a reference to the so-called “nine-dash line,” the name given to China’s visual depiction of the disputed territory.
The scene has proven to be similarly controversial in the Philippines, with multiple local politicians weighing in on the topic. “If the invalidated nine-dash line was indeed depicted in the movie Barbie, then it is incumbent upon the [Movie and Television Review and Classification Board] to ban the same as it denigrates Philippine sovereignty,” Senator Francis Tolentino told CNN. “The movie is fiction, and so is the nine-dash line,” argued Senator Risa Hontiveros in her own video statement, adding, “At the minimum, our cinemas should include an explicit disclaimer that the nine-dash line is a figment of China’s imagination.”
Ultimately, the movie was permitted for release in the Phillipines, with the controversial map reportedly being blurred to obscure the map.
So far, Warner Bros. has yet to comment on the matter.
Barbie isn't the first unexpected movie to get into hot water over the nine-dash line; both Sony's 2022 video game adaptation Uncharted and DreamWorks' 2019 animated kids movie Abominable faced similar bans, while the 2018 comedy Crazy Rich Asians cut a brief glimpse of a map to avoid the same fate.
Somewhere, Robert Oppenheimer is smiling, if somewhat confused that Barbie, of all things, is causing all this trouble.
Oppenheimer might have lost the political battle, but will it win the watching war? Have your say in our poll right here.