Warner Bros. apologizes for ‘Barbenheimer’ after Japan backlash

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“Barbenheimer” may have helped drive both Barbie and Oppenheimer to a record opening weekend. But smashing together the comedy from Warner Brothers and the dramatic biopic from Universal Pictures isn’t working in every market. 

Warner Brothers is now apologizing for its embrace of fan-driven mash-up, following a social media backlash in Japan, including criticism from the studio’s own Japanese division.

Over the weekend, Japanese social media users complained that the “Barbenheimer” mash-up made light of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War. Users posted the hashtag “#NoBarbenheimer,” images and statistics on the bombing, or clips from Japanese media about its aftereffects, according to Unseen Japan, a publication that tracks news and social media trends in the country.  

Users were particularly outraged by Warner Brothers’ embrace of the meme on its official social media accounts, potentially threatening Barbie‘s Japan opening on Aug. 11. (Oppenheimer does not yet have a release date in Japan.)

In one such post on July 20, the official Barbie film Twitter account responded to a fan-designed movie poster celebrating the two movies. “It’ll be a summer to remember,” the account tweeted.

For a short period, X—the new name for Twitter—appended a “community note” to the post from the Barbie account, reminding readers of the “mass destruction and mass murder” of the atomic bomb. Community notes are submitted and voted upon by X’s users. While it is unclear who wrote the specific note attached to the Barbenheimer post, it uses the Japanese system for naming years.

Warner Brothers Japan then publicly blasted its U.S. counterpart. “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,” it wrote in a statement posted to the Barbie film’s Japanese Twitter account on Monday. “We are asking the U.S. headquarters to take appropriate action,” the statement continues.

Late Monday, the studio apologized. “Warner Brothers regrets its recent insensitive social media engagement. The studio offers a sincere apology,” Warner Brothers Film Group said in a statement. The offending post has been deleted. 

Controversies

The fight in Japan is the latest controversy to bubble up around the Barbie and Oppenheimer movies.

Earlier this summer, the Barbie movie got in trouble for (allegedly) showing the “Nine-Dash Line,” a term referring to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea, which are hotly contested by other countries in the region. Vietnam banned the film’s release, while the Philippines asked the studio to blur the lines.

For its part, Warner Brothers Pictures said the line in question was part of a “childlike crayon drawing” depicting “Barbie’s make-believe journey from Barbie Land to the ‘real world.’”

Conservative Hindu nationalists are also attacking Oppenheimer for featuring a line from the Bhagavad Vita, a Hindu epic, during a sex scene. 

Interestingly, India is one of the few film markets where Oppenheimer is thoroughly beating Barbie at the box office. Oppenheimer has generated $11.1 million in the country, versus Barbie’s $4.3 million as of July 31

Both movies are dominating the box office. Barbie has broken $780 million at the global box office, according to Box Office Mojo. Oppenheimer has also surpassed $400 million globally. 

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