“Peter Rabbit” has found itself in the middle of a food allergy controversy that has prompted some parents to boycott the animated children’s film and Sony Pictures to issue an apology.
The uproar began with a bundle of blackberries.
One scene shows the rabbit Peter and his forest friends attacking their arch nemesis, Mr. McGregor, by throwing blackberries at him. Mr. McGregor is allergic to blackberries and starts choking, having to inject himself with an epinephrine injector.
The film, released Friday, was Sony Pictures’ big-screen take on the classic characters and tales from British children’s author Beatrix Potter. In the film, the blackberries were at the center of one of many attack plots the creatures carried out to win an ongoing feud with Mr. McGregor.
Now, due to that scene, parents of children with life-threatening allergies are condemning the movie and expressing their concerns on Twitter with the hashtag #boycottpeterrabbit.
“For them to mock something so serious is irresponsible and dangerous,” said Dr. Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist at NYU Langone Medical Center and an allergist with the nonprofit Allergy & Asthma Network.
Parikh added that there have been real-life cases in which school bullies have used food allergies to threaten and harm other children.
“This is very dangerous and anxiety-provoking, as deaths occur when food allergies are not taken seriously,” she said.
Sony Pictures and the filmmakers of “Peter Rabbit” have released a statement in response.
“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 statement said.
The Kids With Food Allergies Foundation, a division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, was one of the first groups to raise concerns about “Peter Rabbit.”
In a Facebook post on Friday, the foundation issued a “warning” to parents about the blackberries scene: “Parents should be aware of this before your children see the movie so you can talk with your child(ren) about it.”
On Saturday, the kids’ foundation and the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America wrote a letter to the makers of the film, saying the scene suggests that food allergies are “made up for attention.”
The letter went on to encourage Sony to examine its portrayal of bullying in films geared toward children and to refrain from mocking food allergies in the future.
“We would welcome the opportunity to educate your company and the cast of the movie about the realities of food allergy so that they and your viewing audience can better understand and recognize the gravity of the disease. We would like to work together to promote positive attitudes and safe environments for those with disabilities such as food allergies,” the letter said.
Also on Saturday, the Australian-based allergy and anaphylaxis charity group Globalaai launched a Change.org petition demanding an apology from Sony Pictures for depicting “allergy bullying” in the Peter Rabbit movie.
All families should be aware of how serious and potentially life-threatening food allergies can be, Parikh said.
“Precautions should be taken around people who suffer from food allergies, as it can cost them their life,” she said.
“Emergency medications such as epinephrine should always be carried, and currently, a mainstay of treatment is avoidance of the food,” she said. “It is important we fight the stigma around food allergies and not alienate or endanger those who are at risk.”