“Peter Rabbit” powers-that-be hopped into mea culpa mode after a scene in the movie involving a serious food allergy sparked criticism and an online boycott.
In a joint statement with filmmakers, Sony Pictures said that they “sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologize.”
In the big-screen adaptation of the Beatrix Potter classic, released Friday, Peter Rabbit’s neighbor Mr. McGregor is allergic to blackberries. No matter, the rabbits hurl the forbidden fruit at the man, who’s forced to use an EpiPen. The movie, praised for its animation, has been criticized for turning bunnies into bullies.
Kids with Food Allergies, a children’s organization, posted a “heads-up alert” on Facebook for parents so they could have an “opportunity to discuss food allergy bullying and ‘jokes’ with their child before seeing the movie,” they noted. They added that the post “immediately went viral.” Twitter users started using the hashtag #boycottpeterrabbit.
In addition, Kenneth Mendez, the president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, wrote an open letter stating that “jokes about food allergies can put people in danger.”
Many people, actually.
Researchers estimate that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, including about 6 million children under age 18. That’s 1 in 13 children, or roughly two in every classroom, according to the group Food Allergy Research & Education.
Mendez urged the brains behind the film to “examine your portrayal of bullying in your films geared toward a young audience.”
The scene raises troubling echoes of an incident in January in which three Pennsylvania teenagers were charged with intentionally exposing a school classmate with a severe pineapple allergy to the fruit.
“Food allergies and are a serious issue” and the film “should not have made light” of them “even in a cartoonish, slapstick way,” the movie’s creators said.