Philippines censors have allowed the upcoming Barbie film to be shown in the country’s cinemas, but have asked Hollywood distributors to blur the lines on a child-like drawing of a world map, which allegedly shows China’s disputed maritime claims.
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The censors began examining Barbie last week after Vietnam reportedly banned the film over scenes featuring a map showing the so-called nine-dash line, which China uses to justify its claim to the South China Sea.
Beijing claims territorial ownership over almost the entire South China Sea, despite rival claims from other south-east Asian countries, including the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam.
However, after “meticulous” scrutiny of the film, Philippine censors were satisfied that the “cartoonish map” did not depict the nine-dash line.
“Instead, the map portrayed the route of the make-believe journey of Barbie from Barbie Land to the ’real world’, as an integral part of the story,” the censorship board said (via The Guardian).
“Rest assured that the board has exhausted all possible resources in arriving at this decision as we have not hesitated in the past to sanction filmmakers/ producers/distributors for exhibiting the fictitious ’nine-dash line’ in their materials.”
Despite being satisfied, the censors have still asked Hollywood studio Warner Bros. to “blur” the controversial lines on the map. Their request was made clear in a separate letter to the Philippine senator Francis Tolentino, who had criticised the film for “violating Filipino fisherfolks’ rights.”
Concerns about the maritime claims were raised after the censors said they found only eight dashes around the landmass labelled “Asia”, whereas Europe, North America, South America, Africa had several more.
“Moreover, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia are not visible on the map,” the board said in the letter. “This is in stark contrast to the maps found in the banned films Abominable (2019) and Uncharted (2022),” it said.
The Philippine department of foreign affairs said it appreciated the opportunity to watch Barbie to “ascertain if the depiction of the imaginary world map is inimical to the national interest”.
A spokesperson for Warner Bros. was quoted by Variety as saying the map was a “childlike crayon drawing” and “not intended to make any type of statement”.
The Philippine’s approval of Barbie coincided with the seventh anniversary of the international ruling that China’s claims to the South China Sea have no legal basis.
First reactions for the Barbie movie arrived earlier this week, with critics praising it as a “funny, bombastic and very smart” film.