Philippines allows Barbie film with blurred South China Sea map

Censors want a ‘cartoonish map’ depicting China’s claim over the South China Sea blurred from the film.

Margot Robbie and Scott Evans pose on the pink carpet for the world premiere of Barbie in Los Angeles, US, July 9, 2023 [Mike Blake/Reuters]

The Philippines has allowed the upcoming Barbie film to be shown in cinemas after asking its Hollywood distributor to blur a map depicting China’s “nine-dash line” claim over the South China Sea.

The fantasy comedy film about the famous doll, directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, is set to open in the Southeast Asian nation on July 19.

After reviewing the film twice and consulting foreign affairs officials and legal experts, the government’s Movie and Television Review and Classification Board said it would allow it to be screened.

Beijing bases its claim to almost the entire South China Sea on the nine-dash line, a U-shaped line taking in nearly all of the resource-rich waters, which an international court found in 2016 to have no legal basis.

Vietnam, which has banned the Barbie film, also claims part of the sea along with other littoral states, including the Philippines, which brought the court action, and Malaysia.

Censors want ‘cartoonish map’ blurred

Philippine censors said in a statement that after “meticulous” scrutiny of the film, they were convinced that the “cartoonish map” did not depict the nine-dash line.

“Instead, the map portrayed the route of the make-believe journey of Barbie from Barbie Land to the ‘real world’, as an integral part of the story,” the censorship board wrote.

“Rest assured that the Board has exhausted all possible resources in arriving at this decision as we have not hesitated in the past to sanction filmmakers/producers/distributors for exhibiting the fictitious ‘nine-dash line’ in their materials.”

In a separate letter to Philippine Senator Francis Tolentino, who had criticised the film for “violating Filipino fisherfolks’ rights”, the censors said they had asked Hollywood studio Warner Bros to “blur” the controversial lines on the map.

Dashed lines drawn in a “child-like manner” appeared in several locations on the map around land masses identified as Europe, North America, South America, Africa and Asia, the censors said.

But it found only eight dashes around the landmass labelled “Asia”.

“Moreover, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia are not visible on the map,” the board said in the letter dated July 11 and shared with reporters.

“This is in stark contrast to the maps found in the banned films ‘Abominable (2019)’ and ‘Uncharted (2022)’,” it said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies