Philippines threatens to join Vietnam in banning Barbie

Margot Robbie in the Barbie movie, not filmed in Sunderland
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The controversy over Barbie throws into sharp relief Hollywood’s shifting relationship with the Chinese box office.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, a brief moment in the upcoming Barbie is causing controversy among certain countries situated in the South China Sea. Vietnam has already announced it will ban the film, whilst the Philippines have now threatened to do the same.

According to the report, ‘Vietnam’s National Film Evaluation Council said it was banning all screenings of the film for its on-screen inclusion of a map showing the so-called “nine-dash line,” a U-shaped line indicating China’s controversial territorial claims in the South China Sea, which Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei all say violate their sovereignty.’

Of course, the Barbie filmmakers could simply cut out the offending scene, but that might then anger China which would in turn ban the film, closing the film off from the world’s biggest box office market (although American films are increasingly struggling to make much of an impact upon the Chinese box office).

It’s easy to assume that Warner Bros would be happy to lose a few nations like Vietnam and the Philippines to appease China but that’s not a given. As the report states, ‘A major Hollywood hit can earn anywhere from $5 million to over $10 million in each country’ whilst another major Hollywood release like Indiana Jones & The Dial Of Destiny for example has struggled to make anywhere near that amount since releasing in China. Assuming that the film will make far more by screening in China is certainly not a given.

The story forms part of a wider ongoing narrative about China’s influence over Hollywood. As the nation begins to pull its cinema industry away from the influence of American cinema and develop its own national film industry to compete with Hollywood on a global scale, it will be interesting to see how Hollywood reacts. This particular incident regarding Barbie is one such marker that will give us an indication of the direction Hollywood is travelling in. We’ll bring you more on this one as we hear it.

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