No, the Reaction to the Peter Rabbit Allergy Bullying Scene Is Not Overblown
The release of a new Peter Rabbit animated film was generally met with some confusion, but recent reports show that many are unhappy with the movie for its treatment of a character with a deadly allergy.
The CGI film adapts Beatrix Potter’s popular book, centering it around a conflict between Peter Rabbit (James Corden) and Mr. McGregor’s nephew Tom (Domhnall Gleeson). One particular scene has received criticism that prompted a motion to boycott the children’s film due to allergy bulling. In the scene, Peter and his friends throw blackberries at Tom knowing that he is allergic. After Tom inhales one, he becomes ill and injects himself with an Epipen.
The Kids With Food Allergies Foundation (KFA) wrote a statement responding to it, which states:
“KFA believes that food allergy “jokes” are harmful to our community. During a reaction, patients require the life-saving drug epinephrine and must go to the nearest hospital for follow-up treatment. The very real fear and anxiety that people experience during an allergic reaction (often referred to as an impending sense of doom) is a serious matter. 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.”
Sony Pictures and the filmmakers have since released a joint statement apologizing for the scene, 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 immediate reaction to the story has been one that criticizes the backlash for being oversensitive. Cartoonish violence has always been a thing in children’s media, and most of us are able to distinguish between the outrageous and the serious. Peter Rabbit is literally about the rabbits and McGregor trying to get rid of each other through a series of antics. Should we be characterizing all of cartoons as murderous and life-endangering?
Here’s the thing about allergy bullying though: it’s not the slap-stick Tom and Jerry fight or Wile E. Coyote violence. It’s something that one-third of kids with food allergies have experienced. In this study from the Jaffe Food Allergy Institute, children report being harassed for carrying medication and more than half were “touched or harassed by the actual food allergen.” In the worst cases, children die. In other ones, they can deal with both physical and emotional long-term damage. Fatalities among adolescents with food allergies are more common.
In “Food Allergy and Bullying: The Implications for Parents of Children with Food Allergies“, Chloe Mullarkey writes about both the need for parents to stress and manage their children’s lifestyles due lack of awareness, a lack or support, and skepticism. Anything from a birthday party to a bake sale has to be done with extreme caution, completely valid anxiety that is often mocked, belittled, or denied completely. A quick will show you many, many articles by parents of kids with allergies explaining what makes them “neurotic”, “fussy”, and “difficult”. Wouldn’t you be?
Keeping these facts in mind, imagine taking your children with allergies to a film where a character with a serious allergy goes through a reaction. You hear the audience laugh. Maybe you think about how the parents who scoffed at your comments about school lunches are going to take their child to see it. Maybe you started getting worried about whether or not your child is now thinking of not carrying their epi-pen with them, like nearly 40% reported doing in that earlier study.
Or consider being an adult with a deadly allergy, and seeing your own condition being treated like a joke. Your epi-pen a punchline.
This story isn’t overblown because of people treating a children’s movie too seriously. It should be treated seriously precisely because it’s a children’s movie.
(via Buzzfeed, image: Sony Pictures)
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