Film Twitter Has Its Worst Week Ever

“Napoleon Bonaparte was a terrible person,” and other lowlights

I am begging the people of Film Twitter to read a book. Any book will do, really, but specifically American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer, Kai Bird’s 721-page doorstopper of an Oppenheimer biography.

That book is the source material for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming film Oppenheimer, about the life of the physicist who led the team that created the atomic bomb, only to call for the end of nuclear warfare following World War II.

I bring this up because Oppenheimer is the latest film to be caught in a cycle of Twitter outrage before its release. It seems there’s no escaping it these days. Some Brave Little Poster will see a movie trailer and inevitably grade a movie based on the supposed morality of its characters instead of the actual content of the film.

What are people attacking Oppenheimer for, you ask? Is it for any scenes of violence that might be in the film, since it’s about the creation of the most destructive weapon in the history of mankind? Why, no. People are up in arms about the age gap between Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh, who play Oppenheimer and Dr. Jean Tatlock, respectively. Tatlock was Oppenheimer’s girlfriend before he met his wife, Kitty.

“Not to be that person, but there’s a 20 year difference between Cillian Murphy and Florence Pugh. Why does Hollywood keep doing this?” Twitter user @ginagemeni wrote. “Let womxn age! Cast womxn that are the same age as their co-star!”

Bear in mind these are two real people, who lived two real lives. This relationship is not a spoiler of the movie; it’s all history. Tatlock was 22 and Oppenheimer was 32 when they first met at Berkeley and got involved. He was a physics professor and she was a medical school graduate student. Historians credit her with introducing Oppenheimer to radical leftist politics in the 1930s. She died by suicide at the age of 29, a fact that haunted Oppenheimer for the rest of his life, according to American Prometheus.

Cillian Murphy is 47; Florence Pugh is 27. So, yes, the age gap of the actors is double, but Twitter users were just as up in arms about Oppenheimer and Tatlock’s real-life relationship as they were Murphy and Pugh’s age difference.

All this for a film hardly anyone has seen yet (the critics who have seen it have praised Pugh’s performance). I’m sure Pugh, a grown woman, had full input into how she portrayed Tatlock. Is there a broader conversation for us to have about how Hollywood treats older women and the types of May-December romances that often show up in films? Of course. But applying today’s cultural standards to relitigate events that happened nearly a century ago helps nobody.

Oppenheimer (the film) is also under attack from leftist Twitter spaces who fear Nolan may not devote enough time to Oppenheimer’s Communist ties in his early life or his anguish about creating the atomic bomb. People also seemed worried that Nolan would somewhere use this source material to make an unequivocally pro-nuke film.

Again, if y’all would read a book and stop viewing life through Twitter eyes, you would know that Oppenheimer’s conflicting feelings about nukes and Communism are easily half the material in American Prometheus. The man was conflicted about the bomb and Communism. In real life, people are complicated, and we should have art that reflects those complications.

‘Napoleon Bonaparte was a TERRIBLE PERSON’

Elsewhere, Twitter users are shocked that anyone would want to make a movie about Napoleon Bonaparte, because…Napoleon was a bad guy.

Big, if true.

The follwoing tweet came after Apple dropped the first trailer for Ridley Scott’s biopic of Napoleon:

“Napoleon Bonaparte was a TERRIBLE PERSON,” historian @ProfDaveAndress tweeted. “He was a TYRANT. He betrayed every ideal he ever claimed to stand for. He was a shameless pathological liar who killed millions of people for his own insatiable vanity. He is literally one of the worst people in history. You think he looks cool because he paid people to make him look cool. He used the entire resources of state and empire to make himself look cool to future generations. And meanwhile millions of people died, because peace amongst equals was alien to him.”

Look, I don’t know what to tell you. I’m sure Scott, who excels at making nuanced movies about bad people (The Last Duel, Kingdom of Heaven, American Gangster, among others) knows what he’s doing by making a Napoleon movie at this point in history.

If we only made and consumed art about good people, art would be boring. We can learn something about ourselves by watching movies with messy protagonists. Depiction does not equal endorsement, but that seems to be lost on a lot of people who want everything they consume to line up with their views.

Come on, Barbie, let’s go party in the South China Sea

You thought Barbie would get out of the #outrage cycle unscathed? Think again.

This outrage is bigger than Twitter, though. A map in the Barbie film features a dashed line drawn on a map off the coast of Asia. The line, which critics have identified as the oft-contested nine-dash line—a boundary more than 1,000 miles off the coast of Beijing that Beijing uses in order to claim a majority of the South China Sea as its own. The United Nations ruled the nine-dash line in 2016, but China has refused to acknowledge this.

Vietnam disputes the border and has for a while. As such, Barbie is now banned in Vietnam, according to a state-run newspaper: “We do not grant license for the American movie ‘Barbie’ to release in Vietnam because it contains the offending image of the nine-dash line.” Vietnam has banned other films, like Uncharted, for the same reason. The Philippines, however, has said it will allow Barbie to be screened.

American GOP senators like Texas’ Ted Cuz and Tennessee’s Marsha Blackburn have criticized the map, saying that it panders to Chinese censors.

A Cruz spokesperson told the Daily Mail that Barbie is  trying to “appease the Chinese Communist Party,” while Blackburn alliteratively tweeted that Barbie is “bending to Beijing to make a quick buck.”

“The map in Barbie Land is a child-like crayon drawing,” a spokesperson for the Warner Bros. Film Group said. “The doodles depict Barbie’s make-believe journey from Barbie Land to the ‘real world.’ It was not intended to make any type of statement.”

Sadly, these types of news cycles before a film’s release are nothing new (remember what happened to The Last Temptation of Christ?). But it seems these are part and parcel for every film now, and the reactions range from stupid to political clout-chasing. The Barbie outrage has more merit than the Napoleon or Oppenheimer clamoring, but the world will forget all of this in a few weeks. Then the internet will have something else to be pissed about. Calling it now: PETA will be up in arms about The Meg 2 and Strays, and video gamers will be mad that Gran Turismo doesn’t portray them in a good enough light. Or something

Funnily enough, a tweet sums it up the best:

“If you’d told me that between Barbie and Oppenheimer, one would start online discourse about on-screen age gaps and the other would lead to international controversy rooted in 1940s Asian geopolitics, never in a million years would have I guessed which one would yield which,” Siddhant Adlakha tweeted.

So go outside. Read a book. Touch some grass. And always remember to never comment on a movie without seeing it first.

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Jake Harris

Jake Harris is a Texas-based journalist whose writing about pop culture and entertainment has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Nashville Scene and more. You can find more of his writings at or through his pop culture newsletter, Jacob's Letter.

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