If you’ve been on the internet for even a short time, chances are you haven’t missed one of the biggest releases of 2023 – the ‘Barbie’ movie.
Helmed by director Greta Gerwig, who has some iconic new-age films under her belt like Ladybird and Frances Ha, the Barbie movie is a live-action twist to the classic Mattel doll of our childhood dreams. The film stars big names including Margot Robbie as the titular Barbie and Ryan Gosling as her boyfriend ‘Ken’. Thanks to its clashing with the release of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, another highly anticipated movie – both films, due to release on 21st July, have been the talk of the town for the past month.
The team behind Barbie especially has been very prompt in marketing the movie, right from building a life-size Barbie dream house in the middle of Malibu, open for people to visit. But it looks like the movie might have ruffled some feathers in Vietnam, which has banned the film from releasing in theatres.
Citing its connection to China’s controversial territorial claim known as the ‘nine-dash line’, Vietnamese officials told state media that they would ban the upcoming film – raising eyebrows about the underlying tensions between Vietnam and its neighboring country. Vi Kien Thanh, head of the Vietnam Cinema Department, confirmed the ban to the state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper on Monday, stating a particularly offensive scene in the movie that shows a map depicting China’s “nine-dash line” claim over the South China Sea.
The nine-dash line refers to China’s territorial claim over vast portions of the South China Sea, which overlaps with the claims of Vietnam and other Southeast Asian nations. Originally drawn on a Chinese map in the late 1940s, the line encompasses approximately 80% of the South China Sea, extending from the Chinese mainland coast. China has claimed that the line represents its historical rights and sovereignty over the waters, islands, and resources within it. However, the line lacks specific coordinates and fails to clarify the legal basis or extent of China’s claims. It overlaps with the maritime zones and territorial waters of neighboring countries, including Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan, which have competing territorial claims in the region.
The relationship between Vietnam and China has historically been complex due to their shared border. Disputes over territories in the South China Sea, including the Paracel and Spratly Islands, have caused more tensions between the two nations. Vietnam has consistently asserted its sovereignty over these territories, rejecting China’s expansive claims as a violation of international law. In recent years, Vietnam, along with other nations like the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia, has strengthened its military capabilities and sought support from regional and international allies to counterbalance China’s assertiveness.
Barbie isn’t the first film that Vietnamese officials have banned over this situation. Last year, the “Uncharted” action-and-adventure Hollywood movie stemming from a computer game franchise of the same name, was banned in Vietnam for exactly the same reason — it included scenes showing the nine-dash line. In 2019, an animated film Abominable by DreamWorks faced the same fate.
China’s film market has experienced remarkable growth over the years, driven by a booming middle class with increasing disposable income and a growing interest in entertainment. The second-largest film market in the world right now, it’s a lucrative destination for Hollywood filmmakers to reach a vast audience and increase their revenue. China also has strict regulations and quotas on foreign films, allowing only a limited number of them to be released theatrically each year. Studios often vie for coveted release slots, which can be fiercely competitive while also navigating strict censor guidelines.