Oppenheimer: Campaigners’ Action Kit
The release of the Oppenheimer film, and the wave of (media) attention surrounding it, creates an opportunity to spark public attention on the risks of nuclear weapons and invite new audiences to get involved in the movement to abolish nuclear weapons. We can educate about the risks, and share a much-needed message of hope and resistance: Oppenheimer is about how nuclear weapons began, the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) is how we end them. That is why we have put together some resources for all ICAN campaigners - or anyone who is willing to take action- to use at local theatres around the world or to join the conversation online!
What stand does the movie take on nuclear weapons?
We don’t know yet, we will update you once the film has been released. Until the movie comes out, we won’t know many details about the position the movie will take on nuclear weapons, beyond the trailer and the fact that the movie is based Kai Bird and Martin Sherwin’s biography of Robert J. Oppenheimer, “American Prometheus.” While initial interviews with the director and cast seem to hint at a real concern about nuclear weapons, mirroring some of Oppenheimer’s own concerns, there is also risk that the movie ends up being ‘bomb porn’ that glorifies the development of nuclear weapons undermining the dangers of their production and use, or that the discourse centres only around the technical production of the movie, or that it leaves out a crucial part of this story: the catastrophic humanitarian impact of the weapon that Oppenheimer created.
But no matter what the movie shows, it is sparking a bump in social media conversations and online searches for more information about Oppenheimer, nuclear weapons, Trinity, the Manhattan Project, etc. That is why we have collected key talking points and background information on those impacts, and the risks of nuclear weapons below.
We know there are organisations already planning large-scale events that combine (private) screenings with panels or Q&As with experts on nuclear disarmament, but that is not the only way to take in person action. Flyering or offering yourself to do a 'talkback' at your local cinema after the show is a great way to engage movie-goers who have questions. We have created some useful materials you can easily print as flyers or postcards.
Social Media Materials
We have created a series of social media materials you can share to your organisation’s account, though some may only be relevant once the movie is out. You can download them (zip) here or you can find the Canva template, for translations, here.
You can also encourage your supporters to share their own post by here: https://amplify.icanw.org/campaign/25773327-E379-4DBC-895A-8C96420F8B71 or if you would like to embed these one-click-share posts directly on your site, please get in touch with Lucero.
Getting into local media
It may be possible to interest local media in our messaging around Oppenheimer in two ways
- If you are planning any actions around Cinemas or your own public screenings of the film, you should issue a media advisory in advance to your local print/online, TV and radio outlets telling them what you will be doing so they can cover it if they want to.
- Once you have seen the film, you could write a letter to the editor of the local newspaper.
Media advisory template
Headline (this should say simply and succinctly what you will doing eg XXXX will be engaging with audiences at the showing of Oppenheimer at XXXX cinema about the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons)
YOUR LOCATION, DATE 2023
(Here you put details of what you are doing in a maximum of 2 short paragraphs)
For more information contact:
YOUR NAME AND CONTACT DETAILS
About (name of your organisation)
(here you can put some information about your organisation)
Template: Letter to the Editor
To the Editor:
I just saw the new Oppenheimer film, and, combined with increased reporting about Russian nuclear threats and rising nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula, I wanted to share a note of optimism with others who may have left the film shaken by, or questioning, what they have seen..
First, there’s now a treaty that makes nuclear weapons, and everything to do with them, illegal. It’s the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that came into force in 2021, and it’s already been signed by almost half of all UN members.
Second, the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has transformed the anti-nuclear movement and provided a place for anyone- from members of parliament to city councillors to individual citizens like me - to get involved in ending all nuclear threats. This campaign is open to everyone, and as the film so poignantly reminded us, it’s everyone’s responsibility to do what they can to save the world.
Oppenheimer is about how nuclear weapons began; but now I’m glad to be part of the way nuclear weapons will end.
Facts & Myths about nuclear weapons (and other questions raised by the movie)
While the movie has not been released yet, we expect the interest in the movie will raise questions about nuclear weapons and resurface some problematic, yet frequently heard myths. That is why we have prepared an in-depth guide to tackle questions like: nuclear weapons ended WWII (or prevent war), nuclear deterrence means they’ll never get used, so there’s no problem, and so on. We will be updating this FAQ as more becomes known about the movie’s stance.
On Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project
Who was Oppenheimer? Robert Oppenheimer was an American theoretical physicist. He was the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory during World War II, and is often credited as the "father of the atomic bomb" for his role in the Manhattan Project, the research and development undertaking that created the first nuclear weapons.
Did Oppenheimer oppose nuclear weapons? Oppenheimer did not explicitly criticise the use of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However in October 1945 he met President Truman to urge him to turn nuclear weapons over to international control in order to avoid a nuclear arms race, something Truman was unwilling to do. After the war, Oppenheimer joined the US Atomic Energy Commission which was set up to regulate the development of nuclear technology. In his capacity of Chair of the Commission he advocated for the development of low yield nuclear weapons and unsuccessfully opposed the development of the H-bomb and then fell foul of the anti-communist purges of the early 1950s and lost his security clearance and his role on the Commission. Later in his life, he avoided joining calls for nuclear disarmament despite being invited to do so.
What was the Manhattan Project? In 1942, the Manhattan Project was established, with its first offices at 270 Broadway in Manhattan, thereby giving it the name the Manhattan Project. The project continued and expanded employing up to 130,000 people at numerous facilities.
What did other Manhattan Project Scientists say about nuclear weapons? Joseph Rotblat was the only Manhattan Project Scientist that left the project after it was clear that Germany wasn’t building nuclear weapons. The 1995 Nobel Peace Prize went to Joseph Rotblat and Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs "for their efforts to diminish the part played by nuclear arms in international politics and, in the longer run, to eliminate such arms”. In a memo on the eve of the Trinity test, four Manhattan Project scientists could not agree if this new weapon should ever be used in war - or whether it should be technically demonstrated and then eliminated.
On the Trinity Test and its impacts
The Trinity test (shown in the film)
The Trinity Test was conduced on July 16th 1945 at Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range, in New Mexico, United States. As the scientists behind the Manhattan project tested the first ever nuclear weapon, the “Gadget”, safety came second: the fallout zone was dramatically underestimated, the effects were barely studied, and no one was evacuated.
The communities of the Trinity fallout zone call themselves the ‘Tularosa Basin Downwinders’ because radiation was carried downwind from the test site to their communities. Residents were not told about the test even as fallout ‘snowed’ over their farms, homes, and wells. The damage became clear almost immediately. In the months following Trinity (Aug, Sept, and Oct of 1945) infant mortality in New Mexico increased by 56%, many as a result of rare birth defects. Ionising radiation is particularly damaging to rapidly developing and dividing cells—affecting infants, children, and pregnant women. But when authorities were alerted, nothing happened. The Downwinders were left to deal with a devastating legacy of health and environmental impacts for decades and have advocated for justice and compensation since. Read more here.
You can read and hear some of their testimonies through the following links:
Tina Cordova: Tina Cordova (via Outrider Foundation)
More information about the test: Atomic Heritage Foundation
Learn more about nuclear weapons testing:
(interactive map) nucleartestimpacts.org
(multimedia page) Surviving Nuclear Testing