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Philippines allows 'Barbie' movie to be screened, calls China map 'cartoonish'

The country’s film review board found the movie did not feature the controversial “nine-dash line” that Beijing uses in its South China Sea claims, which Vietnam had cited in its decision to ban it.
Margot Robbie in a scene from the “Barbie” movie trailer, next to a map that has been interpreted as depicting China’s controversial “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea.
Margot Robbie in a scene from the “Barbie” movie trailer, next to a map that has been interpreted as depicting China’s controversial “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea. Warner Bros Pictures
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The Philippines cleared the “Barbie” movie for release following calls to ban the show due to a controversial map of China’s “nine-dash line.”

The decision came after the film review board concluded the map was “cartoonish” and that there was no representation of a controversial map feature that China uses to stake its claims to large swaths of the disputed South China Sea.

Warner Bros.’ “Barbie” is unexpectedly turning out to be one of the most controversial movie releases this summer after Vietnam last week banned Greta Gerwig’s comedic fantasy production about the famous doll.

Promotional trailers reportedly featured a scene showing the “nine-dash line,” a map feature China uses to justify its territorial claims to the vast majority of the South China Sea.

“Considering the context by which the cartoonish map of the character ‘Weird Barbie’ was portrayed in the film, the review committee is convinced that the contentious scene does not depict the ‘nine-dash line,’” the Philippines’ Movie and Television Review and Classification Board said in a statement Wednesday.

It said the decision came after the movie was reviewed twice, and that both foreign affairs officials and legal experts had been consulted.

The Philippine board has requested that Warner Bros. “blur the controversial lines in order to avoid further misinterpretations,” according to media reports.

In 2016, an international tribunal in The Hague ruled against China after the Philippines raised a complaint over the disputed waterway, but tensions persist because Beijing continues to reject that verdict.

Other places in Asia including Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have protested China’s continued and persistent construction of various land installations since then to intensify its land grab. The disputed South China Sea is a crucial trade route that’s rich in minerals, where trillions of dollars of ship-borne trade pass through annually.

“The map in Barbie Land is a child-like crayon drawing,” a spokesperson for the Warner Bros. Film Group told Variety last week, in response to Vietnam’s ban. “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.”

Film authorities in the Philippines may have accepted this argument, but they also issued a warning.

“The Board sternly warns all filmmakers, producers, and distributors that it will not hesitate to sanction and/or ban films that exhibit the ‘nine-dash line’ for being contrary to the law,” the review board said in its statement.

The film stars Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken, who are both embarking on a journey of self-discovery after their expulsion from the utopian Barbie Land.