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Philippines allows Barbie to screen in theaters

DESPITE Vietnam’s decision to ban Warner Bros.’ highly anticipated movie Barbie over a scene showing a map with China’s controversial “nine-dash line,” the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) has chosen not to follow suit and has given the green light for the film to be released commercially in the Philippines. 

In a July 11 letter sent by the MTRCB to the office of Sen. Francis Tolentino, who was among those who had lobbied against the movie, the board said that “it has no basis to ban the film Barbie.”  

There is “no clear nor outright depiction of the ‘nine-dash-line’,” it said, when compared to the films Abominable and Uncharted. The two films were banned in the Philippines in 2019 and 2022 respectively, for scenes featuring clear maps with China’s infamous territorial claims. 

Meanwhile, the board said it has requested Warner Bros. to blur the lines on the map in Barbie that can be misconstrued as the nine dashes. 

“Rest assured that the Board has exhausted all possible resources to arrive at this decision,” MTRCB chairperson Diorella Maria Sotto-Antonio said in the statement. 

In an earlier statement reacting to the Vietnam ban, Warner Bros. said that “The map in Barbie Land is a whimsical, child-like crayon drawing. 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 map in question appears briefly in a scene with Barbie, played by Margot Robbie, standing in front of a brightly colored, largely inaccurate-looking world map with several dashes jutting out of the coast of what is marked as “Asia.”  

The MTRCB reviewed the film twice over the past week, consulting with a legal expert on the West Philippine Sea and representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Solicitor General. 

With the line in the film not being U-shaped and having only eight dashes, they found it had little resemblance to China’s nine-dash line with which it claims an area of the South China Sea as its own. This area is also claimed by several Southeast Asian countries including the Philippines, Malaysia, and Vietnam.

China’s widely disputed claims were legally invalidated by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the Hague, the Netherlands, in 2016, a landmark decision which is the basis of Vietnam’s ban of the film.

For Mr. Tolentino, who disagrees with but ultimately respects the MTRCB decision, the approval is still “injurious” to the Philippines’ prestige and untimely as it comes a day before the 7th anniversary of The Hague ruling. 

The map is a reference to China’s continued claims in Philipine waters “regardless of whether they think this is an eight-, seven-, or nine-dash line,” he said in a video statement sent to media outlets.  

The Philippine wide release of Barbie will push through on July 19. — Brontë H. Lacsamana 


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