Rafu Wire Service and Staff Reports
Warner Bros. has issued an apology in response to a controversy over popular memes combining two movies — “Barbie,” based on Mattel’s line of dolls, and “Oppenheimer,” a historical drama about the development of the atomic bomb.
Since the movies have topped the box office in the U.S. since their release on July 21, media reports encouraging viewers to see both, on the same day if possible, have coined the term “Barbenheimer.”
The cheerful memes combine Margot Robbie as Barbie with Cillian Murphy as physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, often with a mushroom cloud in the background. One meme showed Barbie with a mushroom-cloud hairstyle.
Warner Bros.’ initial response to the mashups was positive. “Barbie” is distributed by Warner Bros. and “Oppenheimer” by Universal.
After receiving criticism on July 31 from Warner Bros. Japan LLC, Warner Bros. Film Group said in a statement, “Warner Brothers regrets its recent insensitive social media engagement. The studio offers a sincere apology.”
Warner Bros Japan’s statement read, in part, “Because the movies ‘Barbie’ and ‘Oppenheimer’ were both released in America on July 21, there is currently a movement driven by overseas fans to watch them together (#Barbenheimer), but this is not an official movement. We find the reaction to this fan-driven movement from the official American account for the movie ‘Barbie’ to be extremely regrettable.”
Young activists in Japan on Aug. 1 launched a petition urging the distributors of the hit movies to disavow the “Barbenheimer” hashtag, saying that it is a “clear indication that there is a widespread lack of awareness about the atrocities of atomic bombing” and that the social media activity “completely disregards the suffering of atomic bomb victims and survivors.”
“Barbie” is slated for release in Japan on Aug. 11, just days after the 78th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, respectively. A Japanese release date for “Oppenheimer” has yet to be scheduled.
Although “Oppenheimer” depicts the testing of the first atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are not shown.
Another film about the development of the A-bomb, “Fat Man and Little Boy” (1989), with Dwight Schultz as Oppenheimer, also depicted the testing of the first bomb but not the effects of “Little Boy” and “Fat Man” (the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively).
A number of Japanese films have been made about the horrors of the atomic bombings, including Shohei Imamura’s “Black Rain” (1989), based on the novel by Masuji Ibuse, and the animated feature “Barefoot Gen” (1983), based on the manga by Keiji Nakazawa.
Miho Tanaka, 28, one of the activists behind the signature campaign, said she felt “a mixture of anger, sadness and resignation” upon seeing the memes.
“I feel like atomic bomb survivors have experienced things like this many times, but even so, I felt I don’t want them to have to see these images,” she said.
Tanaka, however, said that the campaign has no problem with the existence of an Oppenheimer film, and she expressed admiration that the story could be the subject of popular art.
“I was really surprised the U.S., Hollywood no less, could produce a film like that and show it domestically. That it could make a film that would create debate about nuclear weapons is a great thing,” she said.
In Los Angeles, anti-nuclear activist Tsukuru Fors posted one of the memes on social media and said, “Jokes and memes that are being made about the movies ‘Barbie’ & ‘Oppenheimer’ are not OK. I don’t need to tell you; I hope it is obvious. It is great that people are ‘excited’ about ‘Oppenheimer.’ I hope that people will go see the movie and that it will somehow motivate them to advocate for the abolishment of nuclear weapons. (Neither the U.S. nor Japanese government has signed/ratified the TPNW, Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.)
“I just think that this insensitivity is what happens when the voices/stories of the victims are conveniently eliminated/hidden away from the narrative. That is why it is my/our job to amplify the voices/stories of the victims whenever possible. I owe it to the people of Hiroshima, who gave me the sense of belonging in my formative, teenage years. I owe it to 350 young girls at my high school who lost their lives on Aug. 6, 1945.
“The A-bomb of Hiroshima and Nagasaki collectively took more than 200,000 lives within a few months. Many had to witness their loved ones die in front of their eyes. In fact, many had to leave their loved ones behind while they screamed for help. Many could not find the remains of their loved ones, because they either instantly evaporated, incinerated, or turned unrecognizable.
“The A-bombs caused intergenerational traumas that affect people to this day. And let’s not forget that nuclear atrocities neither began nor ended with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Please remember hibakusha (victims of nuclear atrocities worldwide) …
“This summer, please go and seek out the stories told in the victims’ voices. Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum has an excellent online database where you can find drawings by survivors, which would leave you overwhelmed but give you the sense of the gravity of the atrocity ….
“I know that some people are so excited about the movies and want to tell the world to go and watch them both, but these jokes and memes are NOT the way to do it.”