Map That Triggered Vietnam ‘Barbie’ Ban Was ‘Child-Like’ Drawing, Warner Bros Says


By Paul Eckert

Warner Bros on Friday said a supposed depiction of a map of the South China Sea that prompted Vietnam to ban the upcoming “Barbie” movie was a “child-like crayon drawing” that carried no political message.

Vietnam announced early this week it had banned distribution of “Barbie” because its trailer includes a map that appeared to take China’s side in an emotive maritime territorial dispute.

The decision to scrap the planned July 21 release of the Warner Bros feature film, starring Margot Robbie as Barbie and Ryan Gosling as her boyfriend Ken, was made by the Central Council of Feature Film Evaluation and Classification, according to media in Hanoi.

The image that caused offense shows Robbie standing in front of a cartoon map containing roughly sketched islands and continents with dashes in several parts of the oceans, including eight dashes off the shore of a large landmass labeled “Asia.”

“The promotion and use of publications and products with the ‘nine-dash line’ is a violation and is not accepted in Vietnam,” Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Pham Thu Hang said Thursday, reiterating Hanoi’s complaint.

Warner Bros. denied the fleeting image had any political intention.

“The map in Barbie Land is a whimsical, child-like crayon drawing,” Warner Bros. said in a statement quoted by entertainment industry news outlet Variety on Friday. “The doodles depict Barbie’s make-believe journey from Barbie Land to the real world. It was not intended to make any type of statement.”

The nine-dash line is a boundary used by Beijing on its maps to demarcate territorial claims over most of the South China Sea, including sections of the waterway that fall within areas claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries. Vietnam calls China’s map a “cow’s tongue” that reaches way down into Southeast Asia.

BlackPink show to go on

The line – often literally consisting of nine dashes on a map encompassing the entire South China Sea – includes the disputed Paracel and Spratly Islands.

“Barbie” is far from the first Hollywood or independent feature to run afoul of  Hanoi’s Communist government.

In 2019, Vietnam halted showings of the DreamWorks film “Abominable” over a scene that showed the “nine-dash line” and drew an outcry among viewers. Netflix offerings including “Pine Gap,” “Madam Secretary,”  and “Put Your Head on My Shoulder” also ran afoul of Hanoi over the sea map.

China itself has a history of pressuring foreign entertainment outfits, retailers, fashion firms, hotels and airlines over perceived misrepresentation of its borders, including that with self-governing Taiwan, over which Beijing claims sovereignty.

While Vietnam’s moviegoers will have to miss “Barbie,” fans of K-Pop in the nation of 98 million will still apparently get to see the best-selling girl group BlackPink later this month.

Earlier this week it appeared that the South Korean quartet’s “Born Pink World Tour Hanoi” could suffer a boycott if not a ban after reports the “nine-dash line” was posted on the website of its Vietnamese promoter. Vietnam cultural authorities said they would investigate the incident.

But the China-based tour promoter, iMe Entertainment, issued an explanation and an apology, according to Vietnamese state media, and the allegedly offending image was removed. 

Two Hanoi concert dates – July 29 and 30 – remain on BlackPink’s website and tickets are available.


Radio Free Asia’s mission is to provide accurate and timely news and information to Asian countries whose governments prohibit access to a free press. Content used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *