Southeast Asian Countries Ban Dreamworks' "Abominable" Over One Controversial Detail
Wed, April 21, 2021

Southeast Asian Countries Ban Dreamworks' "Abominable" Over One Controversial Detail

Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia have all pulled out DreamWorks' new movie "Abominable” from their theaters after a film still circulated online showing the so-called "nine-dash line" of China / Photo by: Coolcaesar via Wikimedia Commons

 

Vietnam, the Philippines, and Malaysia have all pulled out DreamWorks' new movie "Abominable” from their theaters after a film still circulated online showing the so-called "nine-dash line" of China that claimed the country’s ownership of a vast area of the South China Sea. Several Asian countries are disputing the territorial waters, where tensions have been running high for months.

"Abominable” is a collaboration between DreamWorks and Shanghai-based Pearl Studio, and is part of a growing trend of Hollywood moviemakers seeking to tap into the massive Chinese market. Although it somehow worked, racking up $14 million in box-office sales, the movie also created a diplomatic issue that will probably be the only thing people will remember about the movie.

 

A Series of Bans

Vietnam was the first to put a ban on the animated film last week over a scene that featured a map showing China's unilaterally declared “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea. According to Reuters, the U-shaped line is used on Chinese-approved maps to showcase its claims over the vast waters of the South China Sea, which includes large areas that Vietnam considers as its continental shelf.

"We will revoke (the film’s license)," Ta Quang Dong, deputy minister of culture, sports, and tourism, said as per local newspaper Thanh Nien. 

Reuters reported that the culture ministry ordered all cinemas in the country to stop the showing of the film nine days after the Vietnamese-language edition of the movie titled "Everest: The Little Yeti," premiered on October 4. Workers at the state-owned National Cinema Center in Hanoi were seen taking down the "Abominable" posters on Monday, the news agency added.

The Philippines followed Vietnam's lead a few days later. For the same reason, the country's media evaluation agency, Movie and Tele­vision Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) ordered the removal of the film from Philippine theaters.

Vietnam was the first to put a ban on the animated film last week over a scene that featured a map showing China's unilaterally declared “nine-dash line” in the South China Sea / Photo by: user1488365914 via Pixabay

 

"MTRCB understands the situation brought about by the movie ‘Abominable.’ We wish to assure the public that the said movie is already off the Philippine market effective October 15, 2019," MTRCB Chair Rachel Arenas said, as quoted by local newspaper The Inquirer.

Prior to the film’s removal, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin expressed his displeasure and called to boycott not only the film but also "of all DreamWorks production from hereon."

Philippine Representative Lawrence Fortun said the film can create "disinformation and confusion" and that screening it in the country "will also have a negative bearing on our integrity as a country and nation."

For Malaysia, completely pulling out the film wasn't the first option. The Japan Times reported that the country's Film Censorship Board will allow the screening of the film if the producers cut out the scene depicting the map, which the producers declined to meet.

"Universal has decided not to make the censor cut required by the Malaysian censor board and as such will not be able to release the film in Malaysia," said a spokeswoman from United International Pictures, the film's distributor.

Courting a Controversy?

The premise of "Abominable" is innocent and has nothing to do with the dispute (considering that it's a kids' movie). It tells the story of a Chinese girl, Yi, discovering a yeti living on her roof and going on an adventure to Mount Everest to bring the yeti back home.

What made the film a diplomatic issue is a scene showing a large map of East Asia containing the nine-dash line. People were quick to spot the map even though it was only briefly seen in the English-language trailer for the film.

There is no clear reason why the map was included in the movie, but Qatari state-funded broadcaster Al Jazeera said that it will be easily recognized by its Chinese audience.

The bans came after months-long of standoff between Vietnamese, Philippine, and Malaysian ships against Chinese vessels in various areas of the disputed South China Sea. Not only does the South China Sea serve as a major trading route, but its waters are also home to large oil and gas reserves.

In 1974, China issued a map stating territorial claims over the waters that the Asian giant said are historically supported. But other Asian countries also hold their own historical claims on parts of the territory.

The Philippines pointed out its proximity to some of the territory's islands. These claims are supported by the fact that the islands have long been populated by Filipinos, Al Jazeera reported. The country even filed a case against China over territorial claims and in 2016, an international tribunal invalidated the Asian giant's vast claims. This decision has been rebuffed by Beijing.

Malaysia, as well as Taiwan and Brunei, have also made their own claims on some parts of the territory. Their governments argue that some areas fall within their economic exclusion zones as defined by the laws of the United Nations.

Even though it's facing a handful of neighboring countries, China continues to assert its claim by building and staffing posts on man-made islands, deploying vessels, or using various media like movies.

Even though it's facing a handful of neighboring countries, China continues to assert its claim by building and staffing posts on man-made islands, deploying vessels, or using various media like movies / Photo by: NASA via Wikimedia Commons