Why the food allergy bullying in 'Peter Rabbit' is so dangerous

Rachel Grumman Bender
Beauty and Style Editor

You wouldn’t think the new Peter Rabbit movie would be in any way controversial, but the film is facing serious backlash from parents because of a scene in which the rabbits attack the character Mr. McGregor with blackberries, knowing full well that he has a severe allergy to them (enough to require him to inject himself with an EpiPen to prevent anaphylaxis).

Sony Pictures has apologized, saying in part that it and the filmmakers “sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologize,” according to the Associated Press. But parents are continuing express their concerns and outrage on social media — including via the trending hashtag #boycottpeterrabbit and through an online petition, which has more than 11,000 signatures — over what amounts to allergy bullying.

Some allergy organizations have also released statements warning parents about the scene, as well as sharing their disappointment with the film. The Kids With Food Allergies Foundation — a division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) — wrote a letter to Sony Pictures and shared two posts on its Facebook page, including one focusing on why it’s so dangerous to make light of serious food allergies: “Portraying anaphylaxis as a joke can cause some people to have a cavalier attitude about food allergies, which can put kids with food allergies at risk. We are asking filmmakers to work with us to raise awareness about the seriousness of food allergies, and help us promote positive attitudes and safe environments for kids with food allergies.”

Peter Rabbit‘s filmmakers are in hot water for mocking life-threatening food allergies in the movie. (Photo: Columbia Pictures)

About one-third of kids have been bullied over a food allergy, which is a “growing problem” in schools across the country, according to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education). FARE launched the PSA “It’s Not a Joke” in 2013 to help raise awareness of food allergies and why allergy bullying is so harmful.

Kenny Mendez, AAFA’s CEO, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that he went to see Peter Rabbit with his wife after hearing about the uproar on social media. Mendez knows firsthand the dangers of food allergies — both of his children have them, and one continues to live with a life-threatening food allergy.

“When I saw the scene, I cringed,” he says. “You wouldn’t play other disabilities for laughs.”

Mendez notes that 6 million kids have food allergies in the U.S. “Having a life-threatening food allergy can be very scary, and this was a movie directed at a kids’ audience,” he says. “It just made light of food allergies. They didn’t need to have that.”

While Mendez appreciates Sony’s apology, he says more is needed — namely, education and awareness. “It’s a good first step, but those scenes are still in the movie and will be there in the DVD release, and are still troublesome to me,” he says. “Educating the public about life-threatening allergies and allergies in general is very important. One out of every 13 kids has allergies. That’s basically two kids per classroom in the U.S. They can be bullied. Having more empathy and understanding is really important.”

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