I still went to watch Barbie yesterday to give it a fair shot.
The little girl in me also wanted to join the fun. As a kid, I always longed to own a Barbie but it was beyond our family's budget, so I never asked my parents for one. I found joy in playing with the dolls we could afford and even repurposed my old clothes to create their outfits… yet, I couldn't help but feel a touch envious of my friends who had Barbies.
The announcement of the Barbie movie filled me with such excitement that I wanted to arrange a girls’ outing with my friends. But my excitement was cut short when a spoiler emerged: the movie depicted the controversial nine-dash line map, leading to its ban in Vietnam. Suddenly, all the Barbie memes lost their charm to me. I canceled my plan for the group outing, all the while wrestling with whether or not I should still see the movie. In the end, I decided to go anyway to at least understand the context better for myself.
I realized that for many, this might be pure entertainment. But for me, it provoked hard questions: Is it bad to watch a movie that doesn’t respect my country’s territorial sovereignty? Is it wrong to pretend that there’s no problem? Am I taking a risk if I speak up?
But then, I also realized that patriotism shouldn’t even be a question.
While I appreciate the movie's efforts to foster inclusivity and empowerment, I believe the concepts of inclusion and equity need to extend beyond race and gender to be globally mindful in today's world. Defending the controversial map as a child's drawing doesn’t justify the issue, especially considering the film's high production values. As much as I long for Barbie, I’m proud that Vietnam took a firm, wholly justified stance. Because, if underdogs like us don’t stand up for ourselves, who will?
I’m not a big movie-goer, but Barbie could have been the kind of film I enjoy: aspirational, beautiful, and wholesome. Yet, all I’m left with is a deep sense of sadness. When Billie Eilish sang “I don’t know how to feel” at the end, I found myself breaking into tears. Why am I so upset? Wasn’t I supposed to feel uplifted?
Maybe it's because it reminded me of that little girl who wanted to fit in. Maybe I thought of all the young kids in Vietnam who could have been inspired by the movie if it weren’t for the nine-dash line. Maybe I secretly wished I could feel inspired myself. Maybe it's because I love my country and every piece of land that belongs to us, which the movie failed to acknowledge. Maybe I was scared that the movie's successful marketing also promotes an inaccurate representation of the real-world map. And maybe it struck me that Barbie, much like blissful ignorance, is a dream I never had.
All I hope for is that those with the privilege of wielding a massive influence do not take it lightly. I know I could have stayed quiet, but maybe speaking up is the right thing to do here.