Hollywood stars invoke 'Oppenheimer' in anti-nukes campaign ahead of Oscars

Premiere of the film "Oppenheimer" in Paris

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A U.S.-based disarmament organization has seized on public attention surrounding the Academy Awards-nominated film "Oppenheimer" and enlisted support from Hollywood stars for a pre-Oscars campaign calling for a global end to nuclear weapons.

The Washington-based Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), a non-profit think tank, kicked off the effort on Wednesday with an open letter signed by an array of celebrities and activists and posted on the website www.makenukeshistory.org.

The same letter, which states: "These weapons of war must be abolished before they abolish us," is to be published as a full-page advertisement on Thursday in the Los Angeles Times.

It cites the anti-war themes raised by "Oppenheimer," the Christopher Nolan-directed bio-pic about theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who led the U.S. development of the first atomic bomb during World War II and went on to warn of its threat to humanity.

"As artists and advocates, we want to raise our voices to remind people that while Oppenheimer is history, nuclear weapons are not," the letter says.

The total stockpile of nuclear weapons worldwide consists of more than 13,000 warheads controlled by nine countries, some of them 80 times more powerful than those dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, according to NTI and the letter.

Among the letter's signatories are such screen stars as Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas, Viggo Mortensen, Emma Thompson, Ellen Burstyn and Lily Tomlin, and recording artists such as Annie Lennox, Graham Nash and Jackson Browne.

Others include PBS children's science television host Bill Nye "The Science Guy" and Oppenheimer's grandson, Charles Oppenheimer.

The campaign also encompasses several billboards expected to go up around Los Angeles on Wednesday, videos on social media and an art installation opening on Friday at a popular shopping and restaurant complex, organizers said.

NTI organizers said the effort was timed to leverage attention garnered by "Oppenheimer," which was nominated for 13 Oscars, including the award for best picture, in the days leading up to the Academy Awards presentation on Sunday.

Voting by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ended on Feb. 27.

The campaign also comes days after Russian President Vladimir Putin explicitly raised the specter of nuclear war with the West, saying in a speech to Russian lawmakers that NATO countries risk provoking such a confrontation if they sent troops to fight in Ukraine.

NTI was co-founded in 2001 by former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, a leading expert on national defense, and onetime media mogul turned philanthropist Ted Turner.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Michael Perry)