There is nothing funny about food allergies. After all, they can be terrifying. A person’s allergy can be so severe that accidentally eating a small piece of the allergen—like egg whites or pistachios—could send them into life-threatening anaphylactic shock.
That’s why schools districts are so diligent about establishing peanut-free zones, and it’s also why parents are so upset over SONY Pictures’ new animated film, Peter Rabbit.
Parents have taken to social media to heavily criticize the movie for making a food allergy the butt of a joke. Some parents find the problematic scene so harmful that they’re boycotting Peter Rabbit all together—and asking others to do the same.
The scene in question shows Peter the rabbit and his forest friends throwing blackberries at their foe Mr. McGregor, who is allergic to the fruit. The attack triggers an anaphylatic reaction and McGregor starts choking, causing him to inject himself with an EpiPen.
Parents and members of the food allergy community have admonished the flick, which opened Friday, for making light of anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal allergic reaction that is sudden in onset. According to Food Allergy Research & Education, about 40% of kids with food allergies have experienced food-induced anaphylaxis.
“Depicting a character being attacked intentionally with his food allergen in order to trigger anaphylaxis is alarming,” says Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American (AAFA). “With six million kids living with potentially life-threatening food allergies across America, anaphylaxis is not funny.”
On Friday night, the Kids With Food Allergies Foundation, a division of the AAFA, issued a warning to parents on its Facebook page, noting young viewers with food allergies may find the scene “disturbing.” Mendez further explained in an open letter posted to the foundation’s blog that the heads-up alert, which quickly went viral, was also meant to give parents the opportunity to “discuss food allergy bullying and ‘jokes’ with their child” prior to seeing Peter Rabbit.
The AAFA states in its open letter, addressed to SONY, Columbia Pictures and Animal Logic, “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.”
Many parents agree.
One mom commented on the Facebook post that her family will not see the movie because “attacking someone by targeting their disability is never okay.” Another mom wrote that her family members “still put up with bullying due to our food allergies,” including having a school locker “painted with peanut butter.” “I am really angry about this movie,” she wrote on the KFAF post.
In a joint statement, SONY Pictures and the filmmakers behind ‘Peter Rabbit’ state: "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. We sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologize."
The apology is too late for some parents who say the movie, which had a strong opening weekend, won’t be getting their box-office dollars.