A scene in “Peter Rabbit” makes light of food allergies — and parents are angry
A new Peter Rabbit movie came out last week featuring both computer-animated characters and live actors. As a plot device, one of the actors is attacked with a food he’s allergic to resulting in the character having anaphylaxis and collapsing after trying to use his EpiPen.
Um, nope. Absolutely not OK.
The public outcry is loud on this huge faux pas, and rightly so. The scene features the animals attacking the human character of Tom McGregor, the movie’s “villain,” with blackberries. McGregor is allergic to the fruit, but one makes it into his mouth via slingshot. He struggles to use an EpiPen to save himself, and ends up collapsing anyway.
Sam Rose, a mom with a son who has food allergies, tells The New York Times, “I’m pretty sure Beatrix Potter will be turning in her grave about now. Allergies are often not taken seriously enough anyway. To have them trivialized on the big screen by such a popular character is immensely disappointing.”
And she’s not wrong. There are plenty of parents out there who are enraged that their child can’t bring a certain food to school because a fellow student has an allergy. It’s hard enough getting people on board with caring about your kid’s life-threatening allergy, and now there’s a movie weaponizing one as an attempt at humor.
In a statement emailed to the Times yesterday, filmmakers apologize for the scene. “Food allergies are a serious issue. Our film should not have made light of Peter Rabbit’s archnemesis, Mr. McGregor, being allergic to blackberries, even in a cartoonish, slapstick way,” they write. “We sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologize.”
Kenneth Mendez, president and chief executive of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, describes part of the scene to the Times. After the rabbits succeed in launching the blackberry into McGregor’s mouth, “there’s a close-up of his face, and it’s him holding his neck like he’s choking.” The character then collapses and the rabbits cheer.
“Making light of this condition hurts our members because it encourages the public not to take the risk of allergic reactions seriously, and this cavalier attitude may make them act in ways that could put an allergic person in danger,” Mendez wrote in an open letter to Sony.
It’s not hard to understand why members of the food allergy community would be bothered by such a scene. Any parent should be.
Of course, for all those rightfully outraged at the depiction of food allergy bullying and the fact that this scene makes light of something incredibly serious, there are others who will say it’s ridiculous to get so upset about a movie. Is it, though? We don’t have many opportunities to see food allergies play out on screen, and for this to happen in an animated film targeted at children is incredibly off-color.
Some are calling for a boycott of the film, with plenty of parents and medical professionals taking to Twitter to explain the seriousness of making light of life-threatening food allergies.
As a mother of a toddler allergic to several foods, I am disgusted that Sony would make a joke out of flicking an allergen at a food allergic individual. Doing so is felony aggravated assault! What kind of message does that scene send to kids?! #boycottpeterrabbit
— hydrogirl71 (@hydrogirl71) February 10, 2018
On Peter Rabbit gate: anaphylaxis kills. Kids copy what they see. Foods people are most often allergic to are easily available.l (and easily thrown!) I don’t think this is just a massive sense of humour failure but not was there any malintent on the part of the film makers.
— Dr Christian Jessen (@DoctorChristian) February 12, 2018
Say it ain't so @JKCorden . Your new "Peter Rabbit" movie thinks it's ok to make fun of kids with food allergies? Not cool. 5.9 M kids have food allergies. I bet you know one. #PeterRabbit @kfatweets @FoodAllergy
— Peter (@OneDadTwoBoys) February 10, 2018
I will be posting more about this tomorrow. I’m enraged. I thought the new peter rabbit movie looked stupid from the previews. Had no idea they were going to mock #foodallergies. We have to move, folks. We have to make our voices heard on this. https://t.co/P71zQb252b
— Food Allergy Arsenal (@allergyarsenal) February 10, 2018
That whole Peter Rabbit controversy. I agree with it. That scene gives the idea to children who don't have allergies to bully a child with their allergen.
Example, 13 year old Karanbir Cheema died the same way year when he was taunted and had cheese thrown at him. #PeterRabbit
— Mindy (@Mindy_sksaini) February 12, 2018
For their part, the Kids With Food Allergies Foundation was quick to denounce the scene — and to warn parents. “The very real fear and anxiety that people experience during an allergic reaction (often referred to as an impending sense of doom) is a serious matter. Making light of this condition hurts our members because it encourages the public not to take the risk of allergic reactions seriously, and this cavalier attitude may make them act in ways that could put an allergic person in danger.”
There were any number of ways the troop of rabbits could’ve attacked McGregor that didn’t involve something as serious as life-threatening food allergies. Parents with kids allergic to foods that might pop up in an elementary school cafeteria are already gripped in panic that someone won’t take their child’s condition seriously enough, and the result could be fatal. The last thing this community needs is anyone thinking they have permission to laugh about food allergies or to use them to bully or harm another person.