Young activists in Japan have launched a petition urging the distributors of hit movies "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" to disavow the "Barbenheimer" hashtag referring to both films online amid controversy over memes involving atomic bomb images.

The campaign has garnered more than 17,000 signatures since its launch on Tuesday amid a backlash in Japan after a social media account of the Barbie Movie from Warner Bros Film Group engaged positively with fan posts, including images of Barbie with a mushroom cloud hairstyle.

Photo taken on Aug. 2, 2023, shows the online petition from Japan demanding action from the distributors of "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer" films, and one of the fan-made images (R) combining the two films in which an official social media account for the Barbie movie responded positively to. (Kyodo)

Audiences in the United States and elsewhere have flocked to see both Barbie, a satirical comedy, and Oppenheimer, a biographical film from Universal Pictures about physicist Robert Oppenheimer who led the project to make atomic bombs, in an unlikely "Barbenheimer" double bill inspired by their simultaneous release on July 21.

But the petition says the movement around the hashtag 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."

Among its other demands, the petition calls for Warner Bros. to issue an apology on social media for the online activity and for both companies to take measures to prevent a recurrence.

Controversy has erupted over the trend online in Japan, leading Warner Bros. Japan LLC to express regret on Monday over its U.S. counterpart's social media response to the posts.

Warner Bros. Group subsequently said in a statement to multiple media outlets that it "regrets its recent insensitive social media engagement. The studio offers a sincere apology."

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.

Barbie is set for release in Japan on Aug. 11, just days after the 78th anniversaries of the atomic bombings in the country. A date in theaters for Oppenheimer has yet to be confirmed.

The atomic bombings of Japan by the United States during the closing days of World War II took place on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9, 1945, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, respectively. Data from the cities estimates that the bombings caused 210,000 deaths by the end of the year, many of them civilians.

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.

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