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After a review, 'Barbie' movie will show in the Philippines, after all

Protesters wave flags and hold placards in front of the Chinese Consulate in Makati, Metro Manila on July 12, 2023, during a demonstration held to mark the seventh anniversary of an international arbitral ruling that voided China's historical claims to the South China Sea, including the nine-dash line.
Jam Sta Rosa
/
AFP via Getty Images
Protesters wave flags and hold placards in front of the Chinese Consulate in Makati, Metro Manila on July 12, 2023, during a demonstration held to mark the seventh anniversary of an international arbitral ruling that voided China's historical claims to the South China Sea, including the nine-dash line.

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines' film regulator has ruled that the upcoming Barbie movie will be allowed to be shown in theaters across the country following a review of a map shown in the Warner Bros. film that appears to depict China's controversial nine-dash line.

The scene in question is when Barbie, played by Margot Robbie, shows up at another Barbie's house for help with her existential crisis. In the background of that scene a colorful map of the "real world" is shown, very briefly, with a dotted line protruding from the eastern coast of the Asian continent.

The nine-dash line is what China uses when it arbitrarily claims nearly all of the South China Sea as its own. Many Southeast Asian nations, including the Philippines, have long been locked in a territorial dispute with China over crucial waterway — saying that Beijing's claims threaten their sovereignty.

Considering the context, "the Review Committee is convinced that the contentious scene does not depict the 'nine-dash line," the Philippine Movie and Television Review and Classification Board said in a statement released Tuesday. "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."

Warner Bros. defended the map, saying it "is a whimsical, child-like crayon drawing" that was not intended to make any kind of statement. Still, many saw the map as the studio giant pandering to China's movie market, which is worth billions of dollars and growing.

Philippine Sen. Francis Tolentino, who initially pushed last week for the movie to be reviewed by regulators, called the decision "sad."

"We respect that MTRCB, if this is 8 dash line, seven-dash line, or nine-dash line," Tolentino told reporters. "What I see here is China keeping on claiming the Philippine waters, and this is trampling on the rights of our fishermen and even of the Philippine Coast Guard."

The move means that the Philippines will not be joining Vietnam in banning the movie over the map. Barbie joins a growing list of movies banned in Vietnam for including maps that show the nine-dash line, including DreamWorks' Abominable and Sony's Uncharted.

The decision to allow Barbie to show in Philippines theaters comes within days of the Philippine Coast Guard reporting a large swarm of nearly 50 Chinese vessels gathering near Iroquois Reef — which is solidly in Philippine waters. Philippine officials, who are concerned that the swarm means China might be preparing to try to take over the reef, have ordered an increased presence of coast guard and military to try and deter Beijing from any action.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and NPR.org, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.