“Barbie” film, an outstanding success in China
It’s the unexpected surprise of the year. Firstly, the American film Barbie has received censorship approval for distribution in China.
And yet, far from meeting China’s moral criteria, the film is hostile to patriarchy, tolerant of homosexuality and advocating the emancipation of women. Greta Gerwig’s film did everything in its power to be ejected from China.
What’s more, Barbie has become a veritable social phenomenon in the Middle Kingdom. While its feminist roots are the subject of debate in the West, its success in China is largely due to the enthusiasm it has aroused among women. The values exalted by the film are still far from consensual in the country, where they also draw a clear dividing line between those for and against, albeit on slightly different grounds.
Experts have speculated that Barbie appealed to the Chinese regime for the same reason it was banned in Vietnam: a map that appears several times on screen uses the “nine-dash line” that validates Beijing’s claims to the South China Sea.
This alignment with Chinese rhetoric incensed Hanoi, but did it help the film open the doors to the immense market of nearly 1.5 billion potential consumers? Exhibition visas are increasingly difficult to obtain for foreign films, with a notable tightening over the last four years. Seven recent Marvel films were banned over this period before two of them were finally authorized in early 2023.
“You know, Chinese women have little chance of seeing a high-profile film in theaters, and one focused on women’s issues,” summed up a comment noted by CNN on a review site, which totalled more than 20,000 likes. On social networks, young female viewers explain that the film allows them to test their boyfriends’ positions on gender equality issues. Barbie would thus be the ideal trigger for revealing his deepest nature, to the extent that the hashtag #homénervésparbarbie (men who are not afraid of Barbie) would top the trends on local social networks.