Children's Film "Peter Rabbit" Under Fire for Controversial Scene Exploiting Food Allergies

Children's Film "Peter Rabbit" Under Fire for Controversial Scene Exploiting Food Allergies

Source: "No one asked for this Peter Rabbit movie." Detroit Metro News

The film Peter Rabbit is a modern take on the classic children's story. But, this film isn't without controversy. Parents of children with food allergies, and even parents of children with celiac disease, have recently decided to boycott the film altogether.

But, why?

It started when snippets from the film emerged showing Peter Rabbit using blackberries as a weapon against his nemesis Mr. Tom McGregor, who is known to have a terrible blackberry allergy in the movie. This forced him to self-inject an epinephrine pen so as to prevent further complications of his allergy.

The movie, released in February 2018, was Sony Pictures a live-action adaptation of the story with the same name by British children’s author Beatrix Potter. Peter Rabbit and his three sisters live in a hollow under a tree near Mr. McGregor’s garden. Peter Rabbit ended up hating the elderly Mr. McGregor, who killed his father.

When Mr. McGregor died from a stroke, his great-nephew Tom, a Londoner who works at Harrod’s department store, moves in. From the moment he moved in, Tom and Peter hated each other and they start to continuously pelt each other with dangerous things. After realizing Tom is allergic to blackberries, Peter used a slingshot to shoot a blackberry directly into his mouth, which caused him to choke. This led to Tom injecting himself with an EpiPen in order to relieve the symptoms of his anaphylactic reaction.

Parents whose children also suffer from food allergies criticized the film for making light of food hypersensitivities. Especially because exposure to a food allergy can lead to fatal consequences.

Official statements from the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America and Sony Pictures

According to the New Yorker, the president and C.E.O. of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America criticized the film for depicting the ‘allergy-bullying’ scene and issued both a statement on Facebook and an open letter.

The filmmakers and Sony Pictures apologized through an email that showed their remorse about the controversial scene. They also stated that they sincerely regret being insensitive to the food allergy issue.  

In the USA alone, approximately 15 million people have food allergies. Forty percent of that population are children under 18 years old. This means that 1 in every 13 American children have food allergies.

The Food Allergy Research and Education group defines food allergy as a medical condition that is caused by certain foods in which the person’s immune system has a harmful response. So, what exactly happens when the immune system reacts to these foods? The immune system actually attacks the proteins that these foods contain. It is because the system sees these proteins as foreign bodies, which are known as allergens. The allergic reaction varies from person to person. There are mild reactions like itchiness and severe reactions like difficulty in breathing. Moreover, Anaphylaxis is a type of allergic reaction that can cause death.

Inappropriate or are people getting too sensitive?

It is quite understandable where that outrage is coming from. The film, which targets children, depicts a scene that sends a message that using an allergen as a weapon against a gravely allergic person is fine. Younger children are known to be easily impressionable. They might think of a food allergy as something that is not taken seriously. But, it is also an offending concept on the part of children afflicted with allergies to food. So, parents were not happy to see a man keeling over after experiencing an anaphylactic reaction.

However, the film did not receive purely negative reactions. It garnered mix reactions from people in social media. People who disapproved of the film’s allergy scene regarded it as an insensitivity that resulted from the obliviousness of the filmmakers. The controversy went as far as international organizations demanding an apology from the filmmakers.

On the other hand, others said it was just a movie that shows what’s it like to have a food allergy, and they deemed it as a conversation-starter for parents to teach their children. They also stated that Peter was just defending himself against the real bully, a young man who wants to kill him. Some people who think that others are just too sensitive stated that scenes involving food allergy and the usage of an EpiPen to combat it were already shown on screen too many times. For example, in the animated film ‘Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs’ depicted the heroine, Sam, as having a terrible peanut allergy.

But others argue saying what is wrong with ‘Peter Rabbit’ is that the protagonist used an allergen as a weapon against an allergic person. With negative reactions from the majority, including international organizations for allergy as well was medical experts, it’s safe to say that the scene depicted in the film was indeed inappropriate because of the negative impact it has on people afflicted with food allergies.

Dr. Andrew Adesman, the chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York in Queens, said he watched Looney Toons show as a child, especially Wile E. Coyote. Peter Rabbit was different from Looney Toons, according to him, because it purposely exploits a person’s health conditions.  

Even though it is labeled as a comedy, the film ‘Peter Rabbit’ should not make light of sensitive situations, such as food allergies. The goal of the filmmakers should include teaching their young audience to take precaution when dealing with people who have food allergie, but the film showed the opposite.

If the roles were reversed, for example, Tom McGregor force-feeding Peter food that he may be allergic to, it would not cause such uproar and backlash. Why? It is expected of the antagonist to cause harm to the protagonist. He would be deemed as someone too cruel and moviegoers would sympathize with Peter. However, this would cause an uproar among Animal Welfare groups, but to a lesser degree as compared to what’s happening today.

The point is the main character, who is considered the hero of the film, performed the insensitive act. The ‘heroes’ serve as an inspiration to the audience. Some children would even idolize these characters. To say it was just a mistake of the filmmakers is an understatement.

The filmmakers, who allowed this scene to make it on screen, are one of the few examples of people who don’t know the extent of having food allergies. Now that the film was premiered in different states and countries, nothing can solve this problem anymore except for the sincere apologies of the filmmakers and Sony Pictures.

However, parents have also suggested that a warning at the beginning of the film would be appreciated.