Eight vs nine dashes: Why the Philippines OK’d 'Barbie' screening

A still from the forthcoming movie “Barbie,” starring Margot Robbie.
Warner Bros. Pictures

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED: 5:23 PM) — There is no nine-dash line in the "Barbie" movie.

This was the assessment of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board when it allowed the cinematic distribution of the film, saying that no scene depicts the controversial nine-dash line used by Beijing to assert its claim over parts of the South China Sea.

After subjecting the film to "two meticulous screenings,” the MTRCB found that the controversial scene showing a map of the different continents, including Asia, only had eight dashes instead of nine.

“Please note that the dash lines attached to a landmass labeled 'Asia' is not U-shaped, and has eight (8) dots/dashes instead of nine (9),” the MTRCB said in its decision in a letter response to Sen. Francis Tolentino.

However, MTRCB has also requested the film's distributor, Warner Bros., “to blur the controversial lines in order to avoid further misinterpretations.”

Vietnam earlier banned the screening of "Barbie," counting it among the list of films it has censored for depicting Beijing’s delineation of disputed waters, which includes DreamWorks' 2019 animated film "Abominable," Sony's 2022 film "Uncharted," and the 2021 Australian spy movie "Pine Gap."

What was MTRCB’s basis for approving the film?

No outright depiction of nine-dash line. MTRCB said in its decision that “it has no basis” to ban the film Barbie since “there is no clear nor outright depiction of the "nine-dash line" in the film,  in comparison to films such as "Abominable" and “Uncharted.”

The Philippines is not on the map. MTRCB said that the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia are not visible on the map shown in the controversial scene, which was included in the movie’s trailer. This is “in stark contrast” to banned films "Abominable (2019)" and "Uncharted (2022).” 

Different shape. The dash lines attached to the landmass labeled “Asia” is not U-shaped, according to the MTRCB.

What is MTRCB's policy for movies that explicitly show the nine-dash line? 

The board reiterated its commitment to censoring materials that depict the “nine-dash line.”

“The MTRCB is firm, as per its mandate under Presidential Decree No. 1986, that when there is a clear portrayal in films/television of scenes injurious to the prestige of the Republic of the Philippines such as the 'nine-dash line,' we will not hesitate to ban said materials,” MTRCB said.

“Conversely, if the material does not pose such a threat, then, in the spirit of fairness and objectivity, we will not impose a ban on such materials,” the board added.

In 2022, Sony's videogame movie "Uncharted" starring Tom Holland was pulled out from cinemas—two months after release—over a scene with a map depicting China's nine-dash line, and according to DFA, the scene was contrary to national interest.

The DFA made similar requests to pull out the 2019 animated film "Abominable" and two episodes of the Australian political drama "Pine Gap" on Netflix for depictions of the nine-dash line.

In a statement sent to reporters Wednesday, the DFA said it is "not convinced that the lines shown depict anything more than a fictitious path in an imaginary world map."

— with reports from Kristofer Purnell

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