Vietnam has pulled the China/U.S. co-production Abominable out of the country’s movie theaters after the discovery of a scene that shows what Vietnam claims to be a violation of its water sovereignty.
Produced by Shanghai’s Pearl Studio and Glendale, California’s Dreamworks Animation, Abominable had opened in Vietnamese cinemas on October 4, before the country’s state media announced earlier today that it would take the film out of theaters. The film was released in the country as Everest: The Little Yeti.
Here’s a look at what happened:
- A map shown in the background of a scene in Abominable includes the Nine-Dash Line, a U-shaped series of lines that the Chinese government includes on maps to claim ownership over most of the South China Sea. China has claimed territorial rights over these bodies of water for more than 70 years.
- China’s claim of ownership has been protested not only by Vietnam, but the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia, among other countries. In 2013, the Philippines brought a case to the United Nations over China’s claims, and in 2016, a United National tribunal ruled that China’s territorial claims were unlawful. China rejected the ruling, calling it “nothing but a scrap of paper.”
- Films in Vietnam are screened by government censors prior to appearing in theaters, but this scene slipped past the censors and wasn’t caught until a user on social media pointed it out. “I will claim responsibility,” said Nguyen Thu Ha, the head of Vietnam’s Cinema Department, according to Thanh Nien newspaper. She also said that she would remind the film censors “to be very vigilant [and] to be more prudent.”
- Here is a screengrab of one of the shots of the map that led to the film’s ban in Vietnam:
- Other American companies, like the Walt Disney Company, promote the Chinese government’s claim of South Seas ownership as a way to curry favor with China’s government. Disney was most recently criticized for using the nine-dash line in its coverage of tensions between the NBA and the Chinese government.
UPDATED — October 17: Other Asian countries that have overlapping claims on the South China Sea have joined the protest against Abominable. In Malaysia, film censors have ordered the scene with the offending map to be cut before the film is scheduled to open in the country next month, Reuters reported Thursday.
The Philippines, on the other hand, has not made any effort to edit or ban the film, however the country’s secretary of foreign affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. has suggested in tweets that the public should boycott Dreamworks releases. “Dreamworks let itself to be used for propaganda,” he wrote, before adding, “For me call a universal boycott of all Dreamworks productions from here on.”