Updated Jul 4, 2023, 9:35am EDT
Southeast Asia

What it means: Vietnam bans Barbie movie over South China Sea map

REUTERS/Mike Blake

Sign up for Semafor Flagship: The daily global news briefing you can trust. Read it now.

Title icon

The News

Vietnam banned the movie Barbie, accusing the film of showing “offensive political imagery” relating to Hanoi’s long-running territorial dispute with China.

A scene in the film appears to show a map with the so-called “nine-dash line,” a U-shaped section of the South China Sea which China unilaterally claims as part of its territory but that Vietnam — along with the majority of the international community — rejects.

We’ve compiled articles on what this means.

Title icon


  • The director of Vietnam’s Cinema Department confirmed the movie was cancelled after showing the “illegal cow’s tongue line, as the nine-dash line is commonly known in the country. Officials said the ban was imposed on “content that distorts the truth, violates the law in general, and violates Vietnam’s territorial sovereignty in particular,” VietnamPlus reported. Some moviegoers in Vietnam welcomed the decision, reported The New York Times.
  • On Chinese social media, where the nine-dash line is seen as a symbol of patriotism, the news of Barbie’s controversial map was received with praise. On Weibo, a social media site popular in China, a user applauded the film’s production company for “picking the right side on an important matter.” Another said: “I initially had no interest in the film but now I must see it.”
  • It’s not the first time Vietnam has banned a film for displaying the nine-dash line. In 2019, Hanoi pulled the DreamWorks animation Abominable from cinemas after moviegoers spotted a map showing the disputed areas. The ban came amid heightened tensions over China’s incursion into Vietnamese waters. Hanoi used the same criteria to ban Uncharted last year, a Hollywood release that was forecast to make about $15 million in China.
Title icon

Know More

Sino-Vietnamese relations over the South China Sea have changed greatly since China first laid claim to the area shortly after the end of World War II. The 11-dash line lost two of its hyphens in 1952 in a spirit of “comradeship and brotherhood” when Chinese leader Mao Zedong abandoned claims to the Gulf of Tonkin in favor of Vietnam.

However the majority of the international community rejects China’s territorial claims over 80% of the South China Sea. In 2016, the international tribunal at The Hague ruled that the nine-dash line is invalid and that Chinese island-building efforts violated international law.