Why ‘Barbie’ Is Banned in Vietnam

Movies


The Big Picture

  • Barbie was never released in Vietnam due to a scene that depicted the controversial nine-dash line, which both Vietnam and China claim as their own in the South China Sea.
  • The Philippines initially planned to ban the film as well, but after multiple viewings, they concluded that the scene did not actually depict the nine-dash line and allowed Barbie to be released in the country.
  • Barbie is the not the first instance of Vietnam banning a film, as the films Abominable and Uncharted were also banned for featuring the nine-dash line.


Barbie was one of 2023’s most highly anticipated releases. It was so influential that every theater was filled with audiences in pink in honor of the iconic doll. Directed by Greta Gerwig and starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as the titular Barbie and Ken, Barbie premiered in July to rave reviews. With a stacked soundtrack, vibrant cinematography, and an all-star cast of characters, Barbie was destined for success before it even hit the screen. But ahead of the movie’s release, it was reported by Reuters that the film wouldn’t see a release in Vietnam due to a scene that was deemed offensive. So what exactly happened?

Barbie

Barbie suffers a crisis that leads her to question her world and her existence.

Release Date
July 21, 2023

Director
Greta Gerwig

Cast
Margot Robbie, Simu Liu, Ryan Gosling, Helen Mirren, Ariana Greenblatt

Rating
PG-13

Runtime
114 minutes

Main Genre
Adventure

Genres
Comedy, Adventure, Fantasy

Writers
Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig

Vietnam Found a Map in Greta Gerwig’s ‘Barbie’ Offensive

The nine-dash line is a U-shaped line that is used to illustrate the territory in the South China Sea, which both China and Vietnam claim as their own. The nine-dash-line is used in Chinese maps to designate the country’s claim over 90 percent of the sea. The line also affects the Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan, and they have long been in a border debate over the sea. After the ban was announced, Vi Kien Thanh, head of Vietnam’s Department of Cinema, was quoted speaking to the state-run newspaper Tuoi Tre saying: “We do not grant license for the American movie Barbie to release in Vietnam because it contains the offending image of the nine-dash line.” The decision was officially made by the National Film Appraisal and Classification Board, which is responsible for the licensing and censoring of foreign movies in Vietnam.

There was also talk of the Philippines taking similar action towards the film, with Philippines Senator Francis Tolentino saying: “If the invalidated nine-dash line was indeed depicted in the movie Barbie, then it is incumbent upon the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board of the Philippines to ban the same as it denigrates Philippine sovereignty.” There was talk of a middle ground being met if the scene was cut as doing so would allow them to show it. So what did end up happening with Barbie‘s release?

Did ‘Barbie’ Ever Release in Vietnam?

No, Barbie is still banned in Vietnam and was never released in the country. But in an interesting turn of events, despite initially planning to follow in Vietnam’s footsteps, the Philippines changed their outlook on the film. After some debate and multiple viewings, the Philippines gave Barbie the pink light to release. The Philippines’ Movie and Television Review and Classification Board shared the decision in a statement released to the public on July 12, 2023. “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.” 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 board states, continuing on to warn filmmakers about the use of the offensive map. “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.”

What Other Movies Have Been Banned in Vietnam?

Keanu Reeves, Donnie Yen, and Scott Adkins in John Wick: Chapter 4
Image via Lionsgate

Barbie‘s ban in Vietnam is not an isolated incident, as the same has happened for many other films as well. Back in 2019, Dreamwork’s animated film Abominable was banned in Vietnam after it was discovered that a scene in the film showed a map depicting the nine-dash line. The film premiered in the country and stayed in theaters for a number of days before it was ultimately pulled. Furthermore, the Tom Holland-led action flick Uncharted was also banned in the country. Vietnam News Agency reported and cited Vi Kien Thanh about the decision: “The film was banned from distribution after we watched it and found it contained an illegal image of the infamous nine-dash line.” The TV shows Madam Secretary and Put Your Head on My Shoulder were ordered to delete scenes containing the offensive map in order to air in the country. Also in 2023, John Wick: Chapter 4 was unofficially banned due to starring Donnie Yen who is an active supporter of the nine-dash-line.

Despite being barred in Vietnam, Barbie went on to become one of the most successful movies of the year, despite sharing its release day with Christopher Nolan‘s Oppenheimer. The film was so successful, in fact, that a Barbie sequel was in talks before it had even been released. Barbie received much praise for crafting a story that appeals to people of all ages, and delivers a heartfelt message in ways that never feel preachy or performative. Not to mention flawless performances from each and every cast member. There may have been some trouble surrounding its release, but Barbie came out on top nonetheless and gave us a fantastically pink summer to remember.

Barbie is available to purchase on Prime Video, Apple TV, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube.

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