"Barbie" will not be banned in the Philippines, but the controversial map scene may be clouded

“Barbie” will not be banned in the Philippines, but the controversial map scene may be clouded

After a week of review and a long public debate, the Philippines decided not to ban the long-awaited Greta Gerwig film Barbie movie. Starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie and Ken, the upcoming blockbuster hits theaters nationwide in Southeast Asia on July 19.

The country’s Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTPCB) said in a letter released Wednesday that it had “exhausted all possible resources in arriving at this decision,” after consulting foreign affairs officials and legal experts. But after a “meticulous” examination of the film, the censors decided that “there was no basis for banning the film”.

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The board said in a separate letter to a local senator, however, that it had asked Warner Bros. to redact part of the scene that ignited the controversy to ensure no viewers “misinterpreted” the sequence. The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Warner Bros. to ask if the studio will comply with the request.

Barbie found itself banned in Vietnam and sparked outrage elsewhere in Southeast Asia over a sequence that some viewers say shows a map depicting the so-called “nine-dash line,” a U-shaped mark indicating China’s disputed land claims deep in the South China Sea, which Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei say violate their sovereignty. Wednesday marks the seventh anniversary of a ruling by an international tribunal in The Hague which ruled that China has no legal basis for such claims (but Beijing has not recognized the ruling and has instead built vast military installations on previously uninhabited islands in the interior of the region).

Philippine censors said they believed the “cartoon map” shown in the film was not meant to represent the nine-dash line. “Instead, the map represented the path of Barbie’s imaginary journey from Barbie Land to the ‘real world’ as an integral part of the story,” the board said in a statement.

Dashed lines drawn in a “childish” way appeared in different places of the Barbie map around roughly identified land masses such as Europe, North America, South America, Africa and Asia, the censors said. But they noted that only eight dashes were around the landmass labeled “Asia.”

“Also, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia are not visible on the map,” the council said.

Vietnam and the Philippines, while smaller film markets, are hardly overlooked. A Hollywood blockbuster can earn anywhere from $5 million to over $10 million in every country.

This isn’t the first time a major US film has run into trouble in Asia beyond the nine-dash line. Sony’s Uncharted, starring Tom Holland, was banned in both countries last year for briefly showing a map that included China’s favorite controversial markers.