Philippines Allows ‘Barbie’ Film Screening Amid ‘9-Dash-Line’ Controversy

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Philippines Allows ‘Barbie’ Film Screening Amid ‘9-Dash-Line’ Controversy

The move followed a decision by Vietnamese censors to bar the distribution of the film for allegedly depicting the Chinese maritime claim.

Philippines Allows ‘Barbie’ Film Screening Amid ‘9-Dash-Line’ Controversy
Credit: Depositphotos

The Philippine government will allow the screening of the Hollywood film “Barbie” after arriving at a conclusion that it does not clearly show China’s controversial “nine-dash line.”

The Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) released its review after some lawmakers called for a ban following Vietnam’s decision to stop the film screening because of a scene depicting the expansive Chinese maritime claim.

The MTRCB noted that there was no basis to ban the film since there is neither a reference to the Philippines and its neighboring countries in the movie nor a replication of the nine-dash line.

“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,” it explained.

It also quoted the film producer’s spokesperson who told Variety that there’s no intent to make any political statement. “The map in Barbie Land is a child-like crayon drawing,” the producer 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.”

MTRCB said it conducted two reviews and consulted the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Solicitor General. During its initial review, it asked the film producer to blur the controversial lines in order to avoid further misinterpretations.

China’s nine-dash line policy outlines its claim over the majority of the South China Sea, which is contested by numerous countries in Southeast Asia. Protests have erupted in Vietnam and the Philippines over China’s unilateral claim over the disputed seas. The governments of these two countries have also accused China of violating their maritime territories.

For depicting the nine-dash line, the Philippines has banned the film “Abominable” in 2019, “Unchartered” in 2022, and asked Netflix to cut scenes in the TV show Pine Gap in 2021.

It was Senator Francis Tolentino who asked MTRCB to immediately review the film because of potential “injurious consequences to the prestige” of the country. “The rights of our fisherfolks, is not a movie. It’s a reality that they can be bumped by big ships. That’s the real map,” he said in a press statement.

Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros described both the film and the nine-dash line as fiction. “The movie is fiction, and so is the nine-dash line,” she said. “At the minimum, our cinemas should include an explicit disclaimer that the nine-dash line is a figment of China’s imagination.”

Meanwhile, a Mindanao congressman has called for the resignation of MTRCB officials. Congressman Rufus Rodriguez expressed his dismay and disappointment over the MTRCB decision which he assailed for undermining the national interest.

“If its Vietnam counterpart has found it offensive, why can’t MTRCB? A direct or indirect insult is still an insult. If you don’t get that, MTRCB, shame on you!”

The MTRCB assured legislators and the public that it will continue to “issue a stem warning” to all filmmakers that it will “sanction, disallow, or ban films portraying any kind of depiction of the nine-dash line.

The MTRCB decision was announced during the same week when the country celebrated the seventh anniversary of the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in 2016 which rejected Beijing’s claim of historic rights in the South China Sea.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) enjoined Filipinos to celebrate the victory and affirm its global significance.

“Just as lighthouses aid vessels in navigating the seas, the award will continue to illuminate the path for all who strive toward not just the peaceful resolution of disputes but also the maintenance of a rules-based international order,” the DFA said.

But the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines continues to dismiss the ruling. “The award is illegal, null and void. China does not accept or recognize it, and will never accept any claim or action based on the award,” it said in a statement. It also accused the United States government of being a “troublemaker” in the region and “the mastermind behind the South China Sea arbitration” to drive wedges among regional countries.”

Perhaps Filipino legislators should focus on responding to the provocative words of Chinese diplomats instead of interpreting doodles, crayon drawings, and fictional maps in movies.