Australian actress Margot Robbie meets fans during a pink carpet event to promote her new film "Barbie" in Seoul
Vietnam, which has been at odds with China over the latter's claims in the South China Sea, has banned "Barbie." AFP


  • Sen. Tolentino reiterated that the map depicted on the movie only supported China's claims in disputed waters
  • While the Philippines has approved the release of 'Barbie,' Vietnam recently banned it
  • A Warner representative previously explained that the map was not intended to make 'any type of statement'

The Philippines' Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) has approved the release of Warner Bros.' "Barbie" movie in the Philippines despite pushback from some senators led by Sen. Francisco "Tol" Tolentino.

In a letter sent to the senator's office Tuesday, seen by International Business Times, the MTRCB explained that after reviewing the film, it found "no basis" to ban the movie as the "cartoonish" map did not depict China's so-called nine-dash line.

Beijing has asserted that it owns about 90% of the South China Sea based on its U-shaped nine-dash line -- a set of line segments on several maps that show China's territorial claims in the South China Sea. The Asian powerhouse's claims overlap with some exclusive economic zones within several Southeast Asian countries, including the Philippines and Vietnam.

Tolentino previously expressed concerns about the presence of the nine-dash line in the film, saying it "denigrates Philippine sovereignty." He said the depiction "would be contrary to what our country fought for and achieved under that Arbitral Ruling in 2016."

The TV and film regulatory body said after deliberating with the Review Committee, it "immediately" requested that Warner Bros. blur "the controversial lines in order to avoid further misinterpretations." The board said it has also consulted with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), and an unnamed legal expert on the West Philippine Sea due to the film's controversial nature.

"The Board believes that, all things considered, it has no basis to ban the film 'Barbie' as there is no clear nor outright depiction of the 'nine-dash line' in the subject film," the MTRCB said, adding that there were only eight lines shown in the film's map.

In a video statement sent by Tolentino's office to IBT, the senator said he was "saddened" because the decision came a day before the 7th anniversary of the Philippines' arbitral victory against China on territorial disputes in the West Philippine Sea.

Tolentino said he respects the MTRCB's decision, but argued that the map on the film only highlighted China's claims in the Philippines' territorial waters as invalidated by The Hague in a July 12, 2016 ruling.

China's claims within Philippine territorial waters "clearly trampled on the rights of Filipino fishermen and the country's Navy, and the Philippine Coast Guard," Tolentino said.

"I'm not out to fight against 'Barbie.' I just hope the movie would clearly depict how the Philippines owns the territory shown on the film," he reiterated.

Sen. Jinggoy Estrada also told IBT last week that while the controversy surrounding the film may not have a significant impact on China-Philippines' territorial dispute, he believes "it is crucial to speak out against any depiction that contradicts our national interests."

Earlier this month, Vietnam banned "Barbie." Vi Kien Thanh, Vietnam's Department of Cinema director, told local media that the movie was banned "due to a violation regarding the 'nine-dash line.'"

Warner Bros. has insisted that the map shown in the movie was merely "a whimsical, child-like crayon drawing" and "was not intended to make any type of statement."

When asked about Vietnam's ban on the movie earlier this month, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Mao Ning seemed to brush off the matter, saying, "China's position on the South China Sea issue is clear and consistent." China has repeatedly rejected the 2016 ruling over the years.

Tensions between China and the Philippines over the disputed waters have been intensifying in recent weeks following reports that Chinese patrol vessels blocked two Philippine Coast Guard ships. There have also been potentially dangerous incidents allegedly initiated by the Chinese side, such as a near-crash in April.

Meanwhile, "Barbie" is set for release in Philippine cinemas on July 19 and the global premiere is set for July 21. With a reported budget of $100 million and growing interest from moviegoers, the film is now expected to gross up to $93 million on opening weekend. Earlier predictions were on the low, with box office projections only reaching $55 million.

This article has been updated to include Sen. Tolentino's responses to IBT's request for comment on the MTRCB's decision.