The Warner Bros. Film Group in the U.S. has made a public apology about social media activity concerning the “Barbenheimer” meme that has caused major offence in Japan.
“Warner Brothers regrets its recent insensitive social media engagement. The studio offers a sincere apology,” the company said in a statement emailed to Variety on Tuesday.
The move follows criticism of Warner by members of the public in Japan, the start of an online petition against the studio and an unusual maneuver by the Japanese distribution arm of Warner.
Warner Bros. Japan on Monday posted a statement on its official Japanese-language “Barbie” Twitter account criticizing the studio’s U.S. branch for feeding into the “Barbenheimer” craze on social media. The “Barbie” U.S. Twitter account has positively interacted with some fan posts about “Barbenheimer,” which refers to the dual summer releases of Universal’s “Oppenheimer” and Warner Bros.’ “Barbie” movies. Both movies were released on July 21 in North America and many international territories and became box office juggernauts. Together, they boosted the box office to its fourth highest-grossing weekend in history during their debut outings.
“Oppenheimer” has not been released in Japan and no release date has yet been determined. While the film debates the issue of whether the bombings ultimately saved lives and brought international peace, the latest skirmish underlines the continuing sensitivity of the nuclear weapons debate in Japan. By some estimates, as many as 250,000 people were killed by the two atomic bombs dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
“We consider it extremely regrettable that the official account of the American headquarters for the movie ‘Barbie’ reacted to the social media postings of ‘Barbenheimer’ fans,” Warner Bros. Japan wrote in a statement published on the “Barbie” Japan Twitter profile. “We take this situation very seriously. We are asking the U.S. headquarters to take appropriate action. We apologize to those who were offended by this series of inconsiderate reactions. Warner Bros Japan.”
Responding to one “Barbenheimer” fan art poster which depicts Margot Robbie’s Barbie sitting on the shoulders of Cillian Murphy’s J. Robert Oppenheimer in front of a fiery atomic mushroom cloud, the “Barbie” U.S. Twitter account wrote, “It’s going to be a summer to remember.” Twitter, now called X, added a community note to the post explaining the historical context of the mushroom cloud image.
“At 8:15 a.m. on August 6, 1945 (Showa 20), an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima for the first time in human history,” the Twitter note reads. “The particular nature of the damage caused by the atomic bombs is that mass destruction and mass murder occurred instantaneously and indiscriminately.”
The “Barbenheimer” craze has drawn criticism in Japan for making light of the mass destruction caused by the atomic bombs. The hashtag #NoBarbenheimer has trended in the country in recent days.