‘Barbie’ movie is allowed in the Philippines — but will Warner Bros. edit the film?

In character as Barbie, Margot Robbie peeks over the windshield of a pink convertible car.
“Barbie” remains banned in Vietnam over an illustrated map that allegedly shows China’s “nine-dash line.”
(Jaap Buitendijk / Warner Bros.)
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After some delays, “Barbie” will be taking a trip to the Philippines this summer.

The country’s government had been thinking about joining Vietnam’s “Barbie” ban over a map in a scene in the Warner Bros. film that includes a line of dashes on a body of water off Asia.

The map shows up during a scene in which Margot Robbie’s Barbie character, who is experiencing an existential crisis, is seeking advice from Weird Barbie, played by Kate McKinnon. As McKinnon tells Robbie she must travel to “The Real World” for answers, the drawn map appears, showing a trail of eight dashes jutting out in a squiggle from Asia and into the map’s ocean. The map also shows up in the film’s trailer.

In the actual real world, China uses a controversial U-shaped demarcation — the so-called nine-dash line — to claim huge swaths of the South China Sea. Southeast Asian countries that also border large parts of that sea, such as the Philippines and Vietnam, along with the United States, have clashed with China over who controls the waters, an important trade route that is rich with fish and possibly untapped oil.

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However, after closely watching the movie twice and seeing the map in context, Philippine officials gave “Barbie” the green light Wednesday. The decision arrives on the seventh anniversary of a decision by an international tribunal at the Hague that declared China’s “nine-dash line” invalid.


“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.

The review board said the map instead “portrayed the route of the make-believe journey of Barbie from Barbie Land to the ‘real world,’ as an integral part of the story.”

Warner Bros. has defended the illustration, calling it “a whimsical, child-like crayon drawing” that shows Barbie’s trip in the film and “was not intended to make any type of statement,” according to Reuters.

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Before giving “Barbie” a green light, however, the Quezon City-based review board said it had asked Warner Bros. “to blur the controversial lines in order to avoid further misinterpretations,” in a letter to a senator in the Philippines, Francis Tolentino, who had advocated for the “Barbie” ban.

It remained unclear whether the studio would comply with the government’s request and edit the film. Warner Bros. did not immediately respond to The Times’ request for comment.

While reviewing the film, the board got advice from a legal expert on the South China Sea and pointed to differences between the line drawn in the film and the one China uses: The line in the film looks like a backward S rather than a U and has eight dashes rather than nine. (BusinessMirror, a Filipino publication, published the panel’s letter to Tolentino.)


Tolentino said in a press conference that he respected the review board’s decision but went on to call attention to his country’s geopolitical struggle with China, which he called a “continued encroachment on Philippine waters” and “a clear violation of the rights of our fishermen, even of the Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard,” according to CNN Philippines.

The decision arrived days after the Philippines and the U.S. raised concerns about nearly 50 fishing vessels from China parked in oil-rich areas of the sea to which the Philippines lays claim.

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In the past, both Vietnam and the Philippines have banned other films over depictions of the nine-dash line, such as DreamWorks’ 2019 animated film “Abominable” and Sony Pictures’ ”Uncharted,” starring Tom Holland.

“Barbie,” directed by Greta Gerwig, remains a highly anticipated summer film along with Christopher Nolan’s wartime drama “Oppenheimer.” Their coinciding release date of July 21 has spawned the “Barbenheimer” phenomenon, generating viral memes and leading to fans booking double-feature screenings of the two films.

Audiences in the Philippines can beat the U.S. to the “Barbenheimer” craze, as both movies are set for a July 19 theatrical release in that country and several others.

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