After a weeklong review and much public debate, The Philippines has opted not to ban Greta Gerwig’s much anticipated Barbie movie. Starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Barbie and Ken, the soon-to-be blockbuster will release in cinemas across the Southeast Asian nation on July 19.
The country’s Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTPCB) said in a letter made public Wednesday that it had “exhausted all possible resources to arrive at this decision,” having consulted foreign affairs officials and legal experts. But after “meticulous” scrutiny of the film, the censors decided there was “no basis to ban the film.”
The board said in a separate letter to a local Senator, however, that it has requested Warner Bros. to blur part of the scene that ignited the controversy to make sure no viewers “misinterpret” the sequence. The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Warner Bros. to ask whether the studio will abide by the request.
Barbie found itself banned in Vietnam and igniting outrage elsewhere in Southeast Asia over a sequence that some viewers allege shows a map depicting the so-called “nine-dash line,” a U-shaped marking indicating China’s controversial territorial claims deep into the South China Sea, which Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all say violate their sovereignty. Wednesday is the seventh anniversary of a ruling by an international tribunal at The Hague that decided China has no legal basis for such claims (But Beijing has not recognized the ruling and has instead built extensive military installations on previously uninhabited islands within the region).
Philippine censors said they were convinced the “cartoonish map” shown in the film was not intended to 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 said in a statement.
Dashed lines drawn in a “child-like manner” appeared in several locations on the Barbie map around land masses crudely identified as Europe, North America, South America, Africa and Asia, the censors said. But they noted that only eight dashes were around the landmass labeled “Asia.”
“Moreover, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia are not visible on the map,” the board said.
Vietnam and the Philippines, while smaller theatrical film markets, are hardly negligible. A major Hollywood hit can earn anywhere from $5 million to over $10 million in each country.
This isn’t the first time a major U.S. movie has run into trouble in Asia over the nine-dashed line. Sony’s Uncharted, starring Tom Holland, was banned in both countries last year for briefly showing a map that included the controversial markings preferred by China.