Vietnam Pulls 'Abominable' From Cinemas Over Territorial Dispute With China

Abominable - Publicity still 4- H 2019
Universal Pictures

A scene in the DreamWorks Animation film shows a map favoring China's controversial territorial claims in the South China Sea, which its neighbors vehemently dispute — with the incident coming at a time of heightened concern over Hollywood kowtowing to Beijing.

Vietnam has yanked DreamWorks Animation's Abominable from cinemas over a scene that shows a map depicting China's interpretation of territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

The offending scene features a map that displays China's unilaterally imposed "nine-dash line" covering a vast U-shaped expanse of the South China Sea. China has claimed the resource-rich region as exclusively its own, while Southeast Asian nations in the area — some of which are much closer, geographically — vehemently reject the claims, saying pieces of it are rightfully theirs.

Maritime tensions between China and Vietnam have been high since July, when Beijing sent a ship to conduct an energy resources survey within waters controlled by Vietnam.

ESPN came under fire last week for using a similar map in its coverage of the controversy between the NBA and China. While covering the dispute, the sports network displayed a Chinese map showing the "nine-dash-line," as well as presenting Taiwan, which is independent and democratically governed, as if it were under the control of the Chinese Communist Party. 

The use of the map in Abominable probably wasn't an accident. The film was co-produced by DreamWorks Animation with Shanghai-based company Pearl Studio, which is owned by Chinese entertainment conglomerate China Media Capital — an entity partially backed by the Chinese government.

Abominable is directed by U.S. filmmaker Jill Culton, with the animation work done in both Los Angeles and Shanghai. The PG-rated pic chronicles the adventures of a teenager (Chloe Bennet) and her two friends (Tenzing Norgay Trainor, Albert Tsai) who embark on a 2,000-mile adventure across China to the majestic Himalayas in order to reunite a young Yeti, whom they name Everest, with his family.

It appears to have taken Vietnamese authorities some time to catch wind of the offending map's appearance in the film. Abominable was released in Vietnamese cinemas Oct. 4. 

"We will revoke [the film's release license],” Ta Quang Dong, Vietnam's deputy minister of culture, sports and tourism said Monday, according to the Thanh Nien newspaper.

The incident comes at a time of heightened concern over the U.S. entertainment industry's willingness to kowtow to Beijing in exchange for access to the large Chinese consumer market.

In its now infamous "Band in China" episode, South Park generated a wave of international media attention with a sharp critique of Hollywood's tendency of shaping content in a way to avoid offending Chinese government censors. The Chinese government was predictably humorless in its response, deleting every episode and mention of South Park from the Internet in the country. 

The NBA, of course, also has been plunged into a crisis of values, following Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey's tweet of support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement. Chinese nationalists are outraged that the NBA didn't fire Morey over the tweet — many Beijing hardliners have claimed that questioning China's sovereignty is equivalent to espousing a racial slur — while U.S. politicians have expressed disgust over the NBA's apparent willingness to compromise on the value of free speech for Chinese business interests. 

More to come...