First Barbie, then BLACKPINK, now Netflix: Why has Vietnam banned the series ‘Flight to You’?

Barbie, BLACKPINK and now Netflix drama Flight To You have all fallen foul of Vietnam's Culture Ministry
Barbie, BLACKPINK and now Netflix drama Flight To You have all fallen foul of Vietnam's Culture Ministry Copyright Warner Bros. / Getty Images / Netflix
By David Mouriquand
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The “nine dash line” map is quite the hot button issue when it comes to films, series and even South Korean girl groups. Here’s why.


Less than a week after the Vietnamese government banned the distribution of the upcoming (and highly anticipated) Barbie movie, Vietnam has ordered Netflix to stop the streaming of a Chinese romantic drama, Flight to You, for similar reasons: a map showing islands in the South China Sea as non-Vietnamese territory.

In both Barbie and Flight to You, a map is shown to have the "nine-dash line," which depicts China as owning around 90 percent of the South China Sea.

Vietnam’s Culture Ministry’s cinema department said in a statement that Netflix and FPT, the country’s largest information technology service, were ordered to remove the series for violating its sovereignty laws.

Vietnam’s Cinema Department had reviewed all 39 episodes of the series and found the “nine dash line” depicted in Episodes 18, 19, 21, 24, 25, 26 , 27, 30 and 38.

The show, about a woman who dreams of becoming captain at a fictional airline, is produced by leading Chinese drama house Huace.

Even as FTP blurred the scenes showing the map, the department said the series had to be taken down, as it is filled with “inappropriate content”.

What is the controversial “nine dash line” map?

Public Domain
The "nine-dash line" mapPublic Domain

Vietnam says that it will not tolerate the “nine dash line” in film and TV. 

According to local Vietnamese outlets, the depiction of the map is deemed an “illegal image” and has therefore prompted national bans.

The "nine-dash line" is a delicate matter concerning China and its neighbouring countries, one that represents Beijing’s assertion of sovereignty over a significant portion of the South China Sea, which is contested by Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines - who all make territorial claims in the South China Sea.

In 2016, an international court issued a ruling stating that the "nine-dash line" has no basis in law and the Philippines was granted an exclusive economic zone in a section of the disputed area claimed by China. Despite the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) disputes resolution tribunal in The Hague ruling unanimously against the validity of the “nine dash line”, China - who also claim Taiwan as its own territory - refused to accept the ruling and rejected its validity.

Childish scribbles and pop bands in the firing line

Warner Bros. / Mattel
The "incriminating" scene from 'Barbie'Warner Bros. / Mattel

This is not the first time that the Vietnamese government has halted a film’s release due to the inclusion of the map. In 2019, the DreamWorks animated film Abominable was pulled for the same reason, and Sony’s Uncharted also fell foul of the Department of Cinema, the government body in charge of licensing and censoring foreign films.

Following Vietnam’s decision to ban projections of Barbie upon its release next week, Warner Bros. denied that the map shown in the film is the “nine dash line”, and said that it is instead a childish scribble.

“The map in Barbie Land is a child-like crayon drawing,” a spokesperson for Warner Bros. 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.”

Still, no assuaging the Vietnamese government, and the Philippines’ film censorship board is also reviewing Barbie over the controversial map scene.

Getty Images

On the music front, Korean pop sensations BLACKPINK also got into trouble with Vietnamese authorities last week.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Culture and Information said it was starting “procedures to look into the incident,” a reference to a map reportedly with a “nine dash line” discovered on the website of iME, the Beijing-based entertainment company and promoter of the band’s concerts scheduled to take place in Hanoi on 29 and 30 July.

iME quickly apologized.

“The image of the map on the website does not represent the territory of any country and we are aware of respecting the sovereignty and culture of all the countries where iME has a presence,” the company said in a statement. “iME quickly reviewed and committed to replace the images that are not suitable for Vietnamese.”


Are Vietnam missing out with a Barbie ban?

Warner Bros. / Mattel
Their loss...Warner Bros. / Mattel

Greta Gerwig’s Barbie stars Margot Robbie as the Mattel doll who leaves Barbie Land and sets off to the human world in a bid to find true happiness. It comes out on 21 July, and some early reactions have started trickling in on social media, following the first public screening in LA this week.

The majority have been predictably ecstatic - as is usually the case with the excitable few who get into early screenings to hyped new releases - with some calling for Oscar nominations and describing it as “perfection”.

We reserve any judgement for the time being and take some of these with a fist-full of salt... Still, colour us very excited for our Barbie / Oppenheimer double-bill next week. 

Stay tuned to Euronews Culture for our review of both films, out in theatres on 21 July.

Additional sources • Variety

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