Vietnam Bans New Barbie Movie for Featuring Chinese Regime’s South China Sea Map

Vietnam Bans New Barbie Movie for Featuring Chinese Regime’s South China Sea Map
Actors Michael Cera, America Ferrera, Ryan Gosling, Margot Robbie, Issa Rae, Kate McKinnon, and director Greta Gerwig pose for pictures during a photocall for the upcoming Warner Bros. movie "Barbie" in Los Angeles on June 25, 2023. (Mike Blake/Reuters)
Ryan Morgan

Moviegoers may be surprised to learn that the forthcoming “Barbie”—a movie based on the popular children’s doll toy franchise—has been banned in Vietnam over its depiction of an international maritime dispute with the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The PRC—a single-party state controlled by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)—has asserted maritime rights to much of the South China Sea with a map commonly featuring nine dashes. The PRC and communist Vietnam are two of several nations surrounding the South China Sea that have asserted overlapping claims to the body of water.

On Monday, the head of Vietnam’s cinema department confirmed with Vietnam’s state-run Tuoi Tre News that cinema chains have been told to cancel screenings of “Barbie” because the film includes a scene that features the “nine-dash line” map. The film, which stars Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling, was originally slated for a July 21 release in Vietnam, the same day the movie hits theaters in the United States.

Vi Kien Thanh, the head of the Vietnamese government’s Department of Cinema, told Tuoi Tre News that his department’s Central Council of Feature Film Evaluation and Classification blocked a license for “Barbie” to be screened in Vietnamese cinemas. Tuoi Tre News reported the ban has prompted managers of cinema chains across the country, such as Galaxy and CGV, to cancel screenings of the film.

It’s unclear the context in which this controversial “nine-dash line” depiction is shown in the Barbie movie. NTD News reached out to Warner Bros. Pictures—the film’s distributor—for comment, but did not receive a response by the time this article was published.

The “Barbie” movie is not the first Hollywood production to run afoul of Vietnamese censors for including the “nine-dash line” on maps depicting the South China Sea. The Vietnamese government similarly blocked the DreamWorks’ animated monster movie “Abominable” in 2019 and the Sony video-game adaptation action movie “Uncharted” last year for the same reason.

The Vietnamese government also requested Netflix remove episodes of its spy drama series “Pine Gap” in 2021 for including the “nine-dash line.” The series, produced in Australia, depicts an Australian-American joint defense intelligence team against the backdrop of rising geopolitical tensions with the PRC over the South China Sea.

The PRC’s “nine-dash line” map has been repeatedly rejected by other nations and international bodies. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)—of which the PRC is a signatory—establishes that the 12 nautical miles from the baseline of a coastal state can be considered territorial waters belonging to that state.
In 2016, an arbitration tribunal convened under UNCLOS authorities, ruled (pdf) against the PRC’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. The CCP in turn declared the tribunal’s decision “null and void” with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs proclaiming the ruling “has no binding force” and “China neither accepts nor recognizes it.”
Related Topics