Studio’s response to Barbenheimer memes causes outrage

Warner Bros has apologised for the responses of its Barbie movie Twitter account to fan-made Barbenheimer memes, which has sparked a backlash for trivialising the deaths of thousands of people.

Barbie and Oppenheimer may be two completely different movies, but both are enjoying immense success, with many moviegoers going to the cinema to be part of the Barbenheimer phenomenon, given their simultaneous release dates.

While Barbie is a light-hearted comedy about the iconic doll, with light feminist undertones, Oppenheimer is the true story of the invention of the atomic bomb and how it was used in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After the movies were released, fan-made content relating to Barbenheimer was shared online and then the official Warner Bros Barbie movie account started engaging in the content.

There’s one meme where Margot Robbie’s Barbie sits on the shoulders of Cillian Murphy’s J Robert Oppenheimer, with an atomic blast seen in the background.

It’s going to be a summer to remember,” the Barbie account said in response to the photo.

In another tweet that showed another nuclear explosion in the backdrop of a photo of Robbie and Ryan Gosling as Ken driving off, the account said: “We’re always thinking PINK.”

Not amused in Japan

People were not amused in Japan, which in coming days will mark the memorials of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 78 years ago.

The tweets have been deleted after they were heavily criticised for being insensitive and the hashtag #NoBarbenheimer kicked off on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Japan’s own Barbie account from the country’s Warner Bros branch condemned the responses and said it was “extremely regrettable that the official account of the American headquarters for the movie Barbie reacted to the social media postings of Barbenheimer fans”, according to the BBC.

The studio’s US headquarters then apologised for engaging with the content.

Warner Bros regrets its recent insensitive social media engagement. The studio offers a sincere apology,” it said.


Many who shared posts with the hashtag #NoBarbenheimer reminded people of the catastrophic results of atomic bombs dropped by America on Japan in 1945.

“Do you realise that this is a nuclear weapon which took 200,000 Japanese civilians’ lives? Asian people’s deaths are something you can joke about …?” one person said in response to Warner Bros before the apology.

“That really is a summer to remember for us. Delete these replies and make an official statement.”

One person shared on Twitter their grandfather was in Hiroshima before the bomb being dropped and he witnessed the mushroom cloud as he took the train home.

They said that children were among those who died, and at “the age of playing with Barbie dolls”.

“I despise it from the bottom of my heart,” they said, regarding the posts.

It is estimated that about 140,000 people living in Hiroshima were killed when the bomb dropped on August 6 and a further 74,000 people were killed in Nagasaki on August 9.

Following the bombings, thousands more people died from illness due to nuclear radiation.

Survivors were left traumatised by what happened, and the cities were decimated.

Some people in Japan say they won’t be able to enjoy Barbie now.

‘Impossible’ to watch Barbie

Oppenheimer has not been given a release date in Japan.

Barbie will be released in cinemas on August 11, but some people have said they will not be going to see it following the posts.

Speaking to NBC News, Maki Kimura, a 43-year-old living in Kanagawa said while she was excited to see the movie, it is now “impossible” for her to do so.

“I loved Barbie so much,” Ms Kimura said.

“But we cannot remain silent about the atomic bomb. Even if our favourite people or things want us to change our opinions.” 

Mitsuki Takahata, who voices Barbie in the dubbed Japanese version, posted on Instagram on Wednesday that she was dismayed upon learning of the memes’ marketing campaign and considered dropping out of a promotional event in Tokyo hyping its opening on August 11.

“This incident is really, really disappointing,” she posted.

“When Japanese internet users see mushroom clouds, it likely brings to mind the horrible suffering and death that occurred in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s hard to see the humour in Barbenheimer memes that depict mushroom clouds as harmless/silly,” Japanese studies lecturer at Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Jeffrey Hall, tweeted.

The initial wave of #NoBarbenheimer posts were not a call for American apologies and were not condemning America for dropping the bombs. They were negative reactions to how Barbie’s US marketing team was making light of the atomic bombings with positive responses to A-bomb memes.”

Speaking to the BBC, a spokesperson for the city of Hiroshima said the city will continue spreading “the knowledge and understandings of the physical and psychological impact of nuclear bombs as well as A-bomb survivors’ hope for nuclear disarmament”.

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