Vietnam bans ‘Barbie’

The Hollywood film shows contested South China Sea territory as belonging to Beijing, media reported

Vietnam bans ‘Barbie’

Vietnam has banned the Hollywood live-action comedy ‘Barbie’ after state film censors took issue with scenes in which a map of the disputed South China Sea is drawn to favor China, Vietnamese media reported on Monday.

The film review board watched the film and made the decision to ban the screening of this movie in Vietnam due to a violation regarding the ‘nine-dash line’,” the nation’s Department of Cinema director, Vi Kien Thanh, told state outlet Dan Tri.

The nine-dash line is a U-shaped border through the South China Sea that claims most of its oil and gas deposits, shipping lanes, and strategically desirable land masses for Beijing, including the Paracel and Spratly islands, Pratas Island, and the Macclesfield Bank.

Barbie, which stars Margot Robbie as the titular doll and Ryan Gosling as her doll boyfriend Ken, was supposed to be released in Vietnam on July 21 but has been removed from theater websites after Hanoi’s decision was published.

Vietnam’s National Film Evaluation Council is tasked with screening films for excessive violence and sexual material, as well as politically sensitive content. Multiple scenes in ‘Barbie’ feature the offending maritime border, according to state outlet Tien Phong.

Scenes featuring the nine-dash line got the action film ‘Uncharted’ banned from Vietnam last year, while the animated Dreamworks film ‘Abominable’ was pulled in 2019, and Netflix was forced to remove multiple episodes of its series ‘Pine Gap’ from distribution in Vietnam. The 2018 romantic comedy ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ was allowed to be shown after a scene that showed the offending border printed on a designer bag was removed. 

Malaysia, Brunei, Philippines, and Taiwan have also challenged Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea. While a tribunal in The Hague ruled in favor of the Philippines on the issue in 2016, rejecting China’s claims, Beijing has allegedly ignored the ruling. 

China has become such a lucrative market for Hollywood films that American directors now make content decisions based as much or more on how they will play in the Chinese market (and whether they will pass the Chinese censors) than on how they will be received at home. Not all US blockbusters become hits in Beijing, however. Disney’s ‘Little Mermaid’, criticized in state media for its “forced inclusion of minorities” and “lazy and irresponsible storytelling,” did so poorly that it made international headlines.