Moviegoers question the lack of Japanese perspectives in Oppenheimer

While much of the discourse surrounding Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer has centered around the film's relationship to its brightly-colored box office competition, Barbie, some savvy cinema-goers had a different perspective: namely, why is Oppenheimer not an entirely different movie than what it is?

On one hand: it is fair to point out that there is some injustice in the continued (Western) erasure of both the Japanese people killed by Oppenheimer's bomb, and even the indigenous people who had lived near the testing site and were forcibly relocated. Indeed, there have been plenty of Japanese movies and other art that have dealt with the trauma from the aftermath of the bomb!

On the other hand: not every story has to be about everything. In this particular case, it's a story specifically about the man who designed the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, and how he came to regret it.

But, this is the Internet, and there will always be Discourse. In this case, I think the Daily Dot took a fair, even-handed approach to examining the lack of Japanese representation in the film about Americans on American soil who invented a weapon that brutally slaughtered lots of people on another continent.

The past few years have seen a lot of debate over diversity in Hollywood casting—both in terms of blockbusters like The Little Mermaid and the MCU, and regarding the political impact of historical dramas as a white-dominated genre

Creatively and ethically, cinema would benefit from a wider acceptance of raceblind casting. There's also a lot of public support for telling the stories of previously underrepresented demographics. However, there's vigorous pushback against the idea that these arguments are relevant to Oppenheimer

First off, Japanese filmmakers have already spent decades exploring Japanese reactions to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is only an "underrepresented" topic if you restrict yourself to Hollywood movies. 

Secondly, Oppenheimer isn't meant to be a wide-ranging story WWII in general. It follows a purposefully narrow perspective: Oppenheimer's. And its casting choices—a laundry list of white men—hold a different meaning from the cast list of a Marvel movie.

The lack of Japanese characters in Oppenheimer is an intentional choice. And that choice is explicitly political, emphasizing the American characters' distance from the horrors they wrought in Japan.

Over at CultureStudy, Anne Helen Petersen offered a critique of Nolan's general Male-ness that I thought was fair and interesting as well:

Unlike other masculinist directors — absolutely Zach Snyder, sometimes David Fincher, absolutely Quentin Tarantino, most of Clint Eastwood — Nolan does not dislike women. There is no vaguely Freudian impulse to punish them, either as actors or as characters. They are not the cause of men's suffering; men do that to themselves. No one would argue that Nolan's films are feminist, but those do place the blame for a broken world squarely on men.

Oppenheimer fails the Bechdel Test (does a woman talk to another woman onscreen about something other than men) because the dominant history of The Manhattan Project, particularly as collected in Oppenheimer's source material (American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer) fails the Bechdel Test. And this isn't (just) the history of the Manhattan Project, it's the history of Oppenheimer — who, at least as characterized here, was utterly uninterested in the conversations of women with anyone other than him.


Which is another way of saying that patriarchy begets patriarchal art. Men's self-regard (and concern) is the narrative gravity; the idea that other audiences would also be interested in such a narrative goes unquestioned.

Why 'Oppenheimer' doesn't include Japanese characters [Gavia Baker-Whitelaw / Daily Dot]