Updated Aug 1, 2023, 9:50am EDT
East Asia

Warner Bros. apologizes for embracing ‘insensitive’ Barbenheimer memes

America Ferrera and Margot Robbie attend the European premiere of "Barbie" in London, Britain July 12, 2023.
REUTERS/Maja Smiejkowska

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Warner Bros. apologized Tuesday for embracing the popular “Barbenheimer” memes after its Japanese branch called the behavior “extremely regrettable.”

The dueling releases of Barbie and Oppenheimer across much of the world led fans to embrace the popularity and thematic differences of the films, resulting in weeks of jokes and memes. The official U.S. Barbie Twitter account had interacted with and promoted some of those memes.

But ahead of Barbie‘s release in Japan on Aug. 11, Japanese fans voiced concern that the studio behind Barbie had endorsed the Barbenheimer phenomenon, given that Oppenheimer is about the man responsible for the creation of the atomic bombs that were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The anniversaries of the bombings are next week.

Warner Bros. Japan said Monday that the Barbenheimer movement was fan-driven, and it finds it “extremely regrettable” that the American account for the movie engaged with it. It said it had asked the U.S. studio to “take appropriate action” on the issue.

Warner Bros. U.S. responded Tuesday saying that it “regrets its recent insensitive social media engagement,” and offered “a sincere apology.”

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Jeffrey Hall, a professor at Kanda University of International Studies, pointed out that #NoBarbenheimer was trending on Japanese Twitter on Sunday. Users were especially critical of memes that combined photos of Barbie with images of the atomic bomb and other stills from Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer does not yet have a release date in Japan. Some have questioned whether it will get a wide release there given its subject matter, though Japan has a history of engaging with films about World War II, from both domestic and foreign filmmakers.