The Barbie film about the famous doll, starring Margot Robbie (left) and Ryan Gosling (right), is set to open in the Philippines on July 19
Despite pushback from some lawmakers, Warner Bros.' "Barbie" will be released in the Philippines July 19 following the MTRCB's decision. AFP


  • The map depiction in "Barbie" was an "insult" to the Philippines' 2016 arbitral win: Stratbase ADRi's Manhit
  • China repeatedly rejected the international tribunal's ruling and continues to build its presence in the disputed waters
  • The MTRCB said it found "no basis" to ban the film in the Philippines

Seven years after the Philippines overwhelmingly won the arbitration case it filed against China's territorial claims over nearly the entire South China Sea, the upcoming release of Warner Bros.' "Barbie" movie has drawn the ire of senators and a think tank. These critics believe that the movie's depiction of disputed waters on a map is an "insult" to the Philippines' victory.

"The depiction of China's nine-dash line in the movie 'Barbie' is an insult to the 2016 Arbitral Victory of the Philippines. It has the dangerous potential of propagating disinformation by forwarding the Chinese narrative that the West Philippine Sea is part of their territory," Victor Andres Manhit, president of the Manila-based think tank Stratbase Albert Del Rosario Institute (ADRi), told International Business Times via email.

China has long been asserting that the ambiguous nine-dash line – covering some of the exclusive economic zones of multiple Southeast Asian nations such as the Philippines and Vietnam – cements its ownership of the disputed waters.

On July 12, 2016, an international tribunal at The Hague overwhelmingly ruled in favor of the Philippines in an arbitration case filed by the latter against China's nine-dash claims. "The Tribunal concluded that there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within the sea areas falling within the 'nine-dash line,'" the tribunal said in its ruling.

China repeatedly rejected the ruling, and for years, has been building up its presence in territorial waters the Philippines' won. Tensions have been on the rise in recent months as China continues to claim sovereignty through radio messages from the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and alleged "dangerous" manoeuvers by Chinese vessels while Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) ships patrolled the disputed seas.

The "Barbie" movie's depiction of the South China Sea prompted a proposal by Sen. Francis Tolentino to ban the film Philippine cinemas, which the Philippines' TV and film regulatory board reviewed.

"Movies have the power of informing the public of critical issues such as this," said Manhit, who is also managing director of strategic advisory firm BowerGroupAsia Philippines. Banning the movie, which is scheduled for release on July 19 in the country, would "illustrate" the Philippines' firm stance on its territorial victory, he added.

For Manhit, filmmakers, producers and actors were responsible of ensuring that the information depicted in their work was based on factual information. "The assertion of our national sovereignty and territorial integrity must cut across industries from the diplomatic community to the entertainment industry," he said.

Warner Bros. has reiterated that the map on its movie had no political relevance and was nothing more than a "whimsical, child-like crayon drawing."

The Philippines' Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) decided Tuesday that the map in the "Barbie" film did not depict China's so-called nine-dash line, as per a letter from the board sent to Tolentino's office, which the senator's office shared with IBT. The MTRCB clarified that there were only eight lines on the "Barbie" map, adding that it has asked Warner Bros.' to blur the map.

Tolentino told IBT in a video statement that he was "saddened" by the MTRCB's decision, noting that he hoped the movie "would clearly depict how the Philippines owns territory shown on the film."

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada told IBT in an emailed statement last week that he believes it was important to speak out about "any depiction that contradicts our national interest."

The Philippine film regulator's decision contrasts Vietnam's move of banning "Barbie" over "a violation regarding the nine-dash line."

Meanwhile, Philippine allies have shown support for the country during the 7th anniversary of its arbitral win over China.

Matthew Miller, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, reaffirmed support for the Philippines in a statement, reiterating that the 2016 ruling was "final and legally binding."

Hae Kyong Yu, Australian Ambassador to the Philippines, tweeted Wednesday that Australia reaffirms its support for its Southeast Asian ally, urging China to "respect" international law.

David Hartman, Canadian Ambassador, said his country has "always been strong in our position" and have been actively calling for the ruling's enforcement.

German diplomat Petra Sigmund said the 2016 ruling was binding for both parties and "as relevant as ever," adding that disputes related to the matter should be resolved "peacefully not by force or coercion.

To commemorate the Philippines' 7th arbitral win anniversary, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) launched a microsite that provides information about the West Philippine sea. "Not one inch," the site's homepage reads.