By Alexa Wyszkowski
Sony has apologized after receiving well-deserved criticism by the food allergy awareness community since February when one of its animated movies premiered mocking allergic individuals.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit, a story that originated from the famous writer, illustrator, and scientist, Beatrix Potter, was recently turned into the “children’s” movie Peter Rabbit released Friday, Feb. 9, and on the same day, there were already complaints.
In the movie, there are two scenes involving food allergies; the first is where the lead character Peter Rabbit, played by James Corden, is mocking the other main character Mr. McGregor, played by Domhnall Gleeson, about his allergy to blackberries, saying that allergies are made up for attention. The second is where Peter and his family are intentionally throwing Mr. McGregor’s food allergens at him, aiming for his mouth to kill him. The organization Kids with Food Allergies, a division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, posted immediately on their website and Facebook page about how the movie makes light of food allergies, emphasizing food allergy bullying, saying that the movie does not show the serious danger of allergic reactions. Another organization, Food Allergy Research and Education posted a parental advisement statement stating that the scene where the character is targeted with his allergens in the movie may be upsetting for children to watch.
When Mr. McGregor experiences a reaction, in this twisted version of a classic storybook tale, Peter and his family want Mr. McGregor’s garden themselves, and believed their only way to get the garden is to kill off Mr. McGregor. At the same time, Mr. McGregor wants to get rid of the rabbits and threatens to kill and eat them. As they battle back and forth, the scenes become more violent but somehow still seem to have a comical feel to them until Sony Pictures simply goes too far. When Peter and his family start to pelt Mr. McGregor with blackberries, one of the rabbits states it’s a “clever idea” and they encourage each other to aim for his mouth. Once they get a blackberry into his mouth he then has an allergic reaction. As a result, Mr. McGregor’s throat starts to close up, he kneels to the ground, and then pulls out an Epi-Pen and stabs himself in the front of r his upper leg. Then he gets up several seconds later, acting perfectly fine, where in reality he should have been taken to the hospital for further treatment.
According to Food Allergy Research and Education, food allergies are a life-threatening medical condition that affect about 15 million Americans. One out of 13 children have a food allergy. Any person can develop one at any point in their lifetime. Food allergies are caused within the immune system, instead of protecting the body from harmful bacteria and viruses the immune system overreacts to a food protein. Every time the body is exposed to the food protein, an allergic reaction occurs which can range from mild, to severe, to life threatening. An allergic reaction that is life-threatening is called Anaphylaxis, which can include symptoms such as difficulty breathing and reduced blood pressure. A person experiencing Anaphylaxis must be given Epinephrine, which is used to help reverse the symptoms. Once administered, that person must taken to a hospital immediately for additional medical assistance. A delay of just 30 minutes could result in death. To prevent any type of allergic reaction, people with food allergies should avoid their allergens and carry Epinephrine, which is commonly known and sold as an Epipen.
Children and adults that live with food allergies may often have anxiety about having an allergic reaction, and many times are left out of common activities due to fear and misunderstanding by those around them. By having Peter target and attack Mr. McGregor with his food allergens in this movie, children may now be even more scared that others may use their food allergy against them. During Mr. McGregor’s reaction, he stabs himself in the wrong place for the Epipen to work properly; it must be administered in the middle of the outer thigh and held for ten seconds. Since Mr. McGregor seemed fine after his allergic reaction, the seriousness of the situation is not explained, and others may not realize that by exposing someone’s allergen to them, they could potentially kill them.
Harshly, this type of harassment is not exclusive to fictional movies. According to the Washington Post, three girls in Pennsylvania planned an attack during school on another girl allergic to pineapple. The girls knew about her allergy, put pineapple juice on their hands and then high fived the girl who was allergic during the lunch period. The girl had a reaction and had to go to the hospital for treatment. The three girls who took part in this attack are facing criminal charges since not only were they bullies, but they physically harmed the girl and could have even killed her. The kind of cruelty in the movie mirrors that of instances like this, and when marketed toward children, it can create misunderstanding of an important issue to an impressionable audience.
In an earlier scene, Mr. McGregor mentions his allergy to another character when he is offered a drink with blackberries in it. Peter responds to Mr. McGregor’s comment as if having food allergies is just an excuse or made up for attention, when really it is a serious, life threatening condition. When Peter later uses this information against Mr. McGregor, the end result is extremely vicious and very similar to the case with the girl allergic to pineapple. Those with food allergies should be able to feel safe about sharing their condition, so in case of an allergic reaction, others will have the knowledge to help them, not hurt them.
Sony Pictures released an apology on Monday, Feb. 12 saying, “Food allergies are a serious issue. Our film should not have made light of ‘Peter Rabbit’s’ arch nemesis, Mr. McGregor, being allergic to blackberries, even in a cartoonish, slapstick way. We sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologize.” The next day, Food Allergy Research and Education released another statement saying, “We are appreciative that Sony Pictures issued an apology for the ‘Peter Rabbit’ scene. But we call on all filmmakers and screenwriters to work with food allergy advocates to treat food allergies responsibly, realistically and sensitively in entertainment media.” As a result of the movie, the members of the food allergy community sincerely hope that people learn and understand that food allergies should be taken seriously and not be used as a way to purposefully harm someone.