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  • Writer's picturejohn kepler

‘Barbie’ Movie Banned in Vietnam

Vietnam’s National Film Evaluation Council banned all domestic screenings of Barbie over the map

In a Barbie world, who controls the South China Sea?

That’s the question a handful of Republican lawmakers — not to mention much of Southeast Asia — is asking thanks to a background detail in the upcoming “Barbie” movie due out later this month.

The detail in question is a dashed line drawn on a map off the coast of Asia that critics have identified as the nine-dash line, a contested maritime boundary that Beijing draws more than a thousand miles off its own coast to claim the vast majority of the South China Sea as its territory.

GOP lawmakers accuse filmmakers of pandering to Chinese censors. But Warner Bros. Film Group, which produced the movie, said Thursday the map is not intended to “make any type of statement.” Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), who leads a select House panel aimed at countering the influence of China, said the map “illustrates the pressure that Hollywood is under to please CCP censors.” “While it may just be a Barbie map in a Barbie world, the fact that a cartoonish, crayon-scribbled map seems to go out of its way to depict the PRC’s unlawful territorial claims illustrates the pressure that Hollywood is under to please CCP censors,” Gallagher said in a statement to POLITICO. “I hope Warner Brothers clarifies that the map was not intended to endorse any territorial claims and was in fact, the work of a formerly plastic anthropomorphic doll.”

Warner Bros., in its own statement to POLITICO, said there were no geopolitics intended in “Barbie.”

“The map in Barbie Land is a child-like crayon drawing,” a spokesperson for the Warner Bros. Film Group said. “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.”

The line, nine-dash or not, has made waves far beyond U.S. political circles. Vietnam’s National Film Evaluation Council banned all domestic screenings of Barbie over the map and the film is under a review in the Philippines that could result in a similar ban. The nine-dash line, which was rejected by an international tribunal in 2016, comes within hundreds of miles of both nations’ coasts and the two countries, along with others in the region, say the Chinese maritime border threatens their sovereignty.

And control over the South China Sea is more than a regional spat. Relations between the U.S. and China are chilly at best, even despite a pair of recent visits by cabinet-level officials to Beijing. And the two nations’ militaries, rivals in the region, have repeatedly come into perilously close contact in or above the South China Sea.

Among the first U.S. lawmakers to lodge geopolitical complaints about “Barbie” were Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who spoke out earlier this week against the decision to draw the map with what they say is the nine-dash line.

A spokesperson for Cruz told the Daily Mail on Tuesday that the film’s trying to “appease the Chinese Communist Party.”

“Senator Cruz has been fighting for years to prevent American companies, especially Hollywood studios, from altering and censoring their content to appease the Chinese Communist Party,” the spokesperson said. Blackburn, in a tweet, said “‘Barbie’ is bending to Beijing to make a quick buck.”

Rep. Mark Green (R-Tenn.), another GOP China hawk, reiterated his call for lawmakers to support his legislation that would discourage Hollywood from Chinese Communist Party censorship. Barbie is far from the first film to face this type of criticism — “Top Gun: Maverick” was the subject of a similar debate last summer.

“Hollywood studios that bow to Communist China prompted me to introduce the SCREEN Act,” Green said in a statement. “In no world should American films be spreading CCP propaganda. I encourage all film studios to stand with integrity or lose support from federal entities like the DOD.”

The Pentagon, for its part, has already taken steps to curb its own cooperation on Hollywood projects that might cater to Beijing’s interests. According to a new Defense Department document obtained by POLITICO last month, filmmakers who want the U.S. military to help with their projects must now pledge that they won’t let Beijing alter those films.



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