The latest film about the blue-jacket-wearing, mischievous, Beatrix Potter-inspired bunny, Peter Rabbit has raised concern among parents of young children with food allergies. The film features a scene that makes light of the seriousness of food allergies and may be disturbing to food-allergic children as well as risky where bullying is concerned. Some have felt that food allergies are grossly misrepresented in the film, while others welcome the message.
In the movie, Mr. McGregor is allergic to blackberries. The rabbits learn about this and decide to launch blackberries at him in attempt to harm him. McGregor ends up catching a blackberry in his mouth, causing him to choke. He then turns red and falls to the ground, while the rabbits cheer. McGregor reaches for an epinephrine auto-injector and applies it to his thigh, causing the anaphylactic reaction to cease, and he then continues chasing the rabbits (without seeking follow-up medical care).
Making Light of Food Allergies
Despite the filmmakers’ attempt to make the scene funny, many parents and children affected by life-threatening food allergies do not find food allergies to be a laughing matter. The scene when Mr. McGregor is attacked by the very food he is allergic to is frightening to children who know the risks of anaphylaxis— especially those who have experienced the swelling, shortness of breath and sense of impending doom associated with the condition.
Many parents of these children feel that when food allergies are made light of this way, the film could be sending a message to the general public that food allergies are not a big deal. Additionally, because food allergies are portrayed as a minor issue, children who do not have food allergies may not realize how serious the consequences can be of bullying kids with food allergies. They may even glean ideas about how they can pick on a child they know who has food allergies or sensitivities.
AAFA Asks Filmmakers for Help
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) released a statement of caution to parents of children with food allergies. Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of AAFA said, “Depicting a character being attacked intentionally with his food allergen to trigger anaphylaxis is alarming.”
AAFA wrote an open letter to Sony Pictures Entertainment, Columbia Pictures, Sony Pictures Animation and Animal Logic (the creators of the film), asking those associated with the movie to work to encourage safe environments and promote positive attitudes for children with food allergies. The letter also asks them to refrain from “the type of programming that mocks disabilities in the future.”
Sony Pictures Entertainment has since issued a sincere apology for their misrepresentation of food allergies in the film.
Raising Food Allergy Awareness
On the other hand, there are parents and other people within the food allergy community who find the scene to have benefits. Many of these people feel that the scene helps to raise public awareness about the danger of food allergies as well as presents an opportunity for parents to talk to their children about food allergy bullying—whether their child is food allergic or not. Some feel that it also opens the door to having a conversation with food-allergic children about the importance of preparedness when an allergic reaction takes place, including the importance of carrying auto-injectors and knowing how to use them.
Talking With Your Kids
Regardless of which side of the fence you sit, the film presents an excellent opportunity to have a conversation with your child about their food allergy, including how to handle an allergic reaction and what to do in the event of bullying.
If you are concerned about the film’s impact on your little ones, you can educate them by telling them that what the rabbits did to Mr. McGregor was very wrong. You can tell them that Mr. McGregor was bullied, that bullying is never OK, and that if anyone ever bullies them they should find an adult who can help right away.
This also presents a good opportunity to talk about food allergy safety. Remind your child that in order to stay healthy, they should not eat anything that contains or may contain the food they are allergic to (unless directed by a doctor) and that Mr. McGregor did the right thing by using his auto-injector to immediately treat his reaction.
If you have a child who does not have food allergies, this movie also presents an opportunity to talk about the seriousness and severity of food allergies and the importance of being kind.
Have you seen the film? What was your reaction to the depiction of food allergies and food allergy bullying? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.