A movie about plastic dolls, not nuclear weapons, has caused political uproar among some conservatives over its depiction of a dashed line off the coast of a child-like drawing of Asia — markings that somewhat resemble territorial border claims by China in the South China Sea.
Outside of Barbie world, the horseshoe-shaped nine-dash line has been used by the Chinese government since the 1940s as a claim of up to 85% of the South China Sea. The film’s drawing drew attention to such claims, angering Republican lawmakers just a couple weeks ahead of the movie’s July 21 theatrical release.
“While it may just be a Barbie map in a Barbie world, the fact that a cartoonish, crayon-scribbled map seems to go out of its way to depict the [Peoples Republic of China]’s unlawful territorial claims illustrates the pressure that Hollywood is under to please CCP censors,” Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-Wisc., who chairs the House select committee on the Chinese Communist Party, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week.
Many countries bordering the South China Sea, including Malaysia and the Philippines, have long-disputed the claims made by Beijing.
In 2016, the international court in the Hague, Netherlands, also rejected China’s claims to the region, where nearly one-third of global goods transit en route to ports around the globe, according to a report on U.S.-China economic cooperation. The U.S. Navy has also routinely sailed through the region as part of freedom of navigation operations.
The territorial depiction in Barbie, meanwhile, so angered Vietnam, which claims part of the South China Sea, that the film was banned in the country, according to a report by Variety.
A spokesperson for Warner Bros. Film Group, however, said viewers have been reading too much into the map.
“The map in Barbie Land is a child-like crayon drawing,” the spokesperson told Variety. “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.”
But even if Barbie is just a Barbie girl in a Barbie world, that hasn’t stopped some politicians from decrying the dire implications a movie about plastic dolls could have when it comes to the near-peer threat out of Beijing.
“Hollywood & the Left are more concerned with selling films in Communist China than standing up to the regime’s human rights abuses,” Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said in a tweet. “The ‘Barbie’ movie’s depiction of a map endorsing Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea is legally [and] morally wrong and must be taken seriously.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has accused Hollywood of appeasing the Chinese government to ensure the approval of film distribution in the populous country. Other organizations like the National Basketball Association have also been slammed by critics for catering to the Chinese government in order to protect growing business interests in the country.
“China wants to control what Americans see, hear, and ultimately think, and they leverage their massive film markets to coerce American companies into pushing CCP propaganda — just like the way the Barbie film seems to have done with the map,” a spokesperson for Cruz told Military Times.
Zamone “Z” Perez is a rapid response reporter and podcast producer at Defense News and Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.