Peter Rabbit Allergy Bullying Controversy refers to the public backlash regarding a scene from the children’s movie Peter Rabbit in which the titular character mocks the film’s antagonist for having a food allergy. Following the film’s release, advocacy groups for people with food allergies accused the film of allergy bullying and called on people to boycott the film. The filmmakers and studio behind Peter Rabbit have since apologized for the scene.
On February 9th, 2018, Sony Picture released the film Peter Rabbit, an adaptation of the famed literary character. In the film, Peter mocks the film’s antagonist Mr. McGregor for having a food allergy to blackberries. After realizing the allergy can incapacitate him, the Peter and his fellow rabbits attack him with the berries, sending Mr. McGregor into anaphalactic shock. To save his life, McGregor pulls out an EpiPen and injects himself.
That day, the Facebook account for the Kids with Food Allergies Foundation made a post chastising the film. They wrote:
“The new movie, Peter Rabbit, has a scene that may be disturbing to young viewers who have a food allergy. A character is intentionally attacked with his allergen, leading to anaphylaxis and the use of epinephrine. Parents should be aware of this before your children see the movie so you can talk with your child(ren) about it. The post (shown below) received more than 4,800 reactions, 2,300 comments and 12,000 shares in two days.
“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.”
Read our letter to Sony Pictures and the other makers of this film:
Dear Mr. Vinciquerra, Mr. Lawson, Mr. Panitch, Mr. Nalbandian and Ms. Belson:
On behalf of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) and the more than 15 million Americans living with food allergies, I am writing with some concerns about a food allergy segment included in the “Peter Rabbit” movie. The segment featured the intentional attack of the McGregor character with the food he is allergic to – the implication being that the rabbits wanted to kill or harm McGregor with this method. The result is that McGregor experienced a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis, and treated himself with his epinephrine injection. Additionally, the segment makes light of the seriousness of food allergies and suggests that food allergies are “made up for attention.”
This isn’t the first time that Sony Pictures Animation has used food allergies as a punchline in the plot of a kids’ movie. Sony has misrepresented food allergies in “The Smurfs” and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” as well.
AAFA (www.aafa.org and www.kidswithfoodallergies.org), a not-for-profit organization founded in 1953, is the leading patient organization for people with asthma and allergies, and the oldest asthma and allergy patient group in the world. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 50 million Americans have allergies.i There is no cure for food allergies. Anaphylaxis is the most severe allergic reaction. Symptoms include flush; tingling of the palms of the hands, soles of the feet or lips; light-headedness, and chest-tightness. If not treated immediately, these can progress into seizures, cardiac arrhythmia, shock and respiratory distress. Anaphylaxis can result in death.
Living with food allergy can have negative effects on the quality of life of patients and their families because they need to remain vigilant about accidental exposures.ii The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) recently examined critical issues related to food allergy, including the prevalence and severity of food allergy and its impact on affected individuals, families, and communities; and current understanding of food allergy as a disease, and in diagnostics, treatments, prevention, and public policy.iii
During an allergic 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.
It is extremely important that people with a food allergy avoid the food to which they are allergic, as contact with their allergen can cause a life-threatening allergic reaction. People with a severe food allergy face challenges every day. Recently, there have been distressing accounts of children using food to bully and assault children with food allergies, and some cases have resulted in death for the child with food allergies and criminal charges for the attackers.iv, v
The federal civil rights law, Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), gives people with disabilities the right to ask for changes where policies, practices or conditions leave you out or put you at a disadvantage. In 2008, the ADA changed to include more people in the definition of “disabled”. Conditions like food allergies that only show symptoms at certain times are now included. The ADA protects people with food allergies even if allergic reactions happen only when triggered.
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. We encourage you to examine your portrayal of bullying in your films geared toward a young audience. We strongly urge you to refrain from the type of programming that mocks food allergies in the future.
We are available to discuss further. Please feel free to contact me or Melanie Carver, AAFA’s Vice President of Community Health and Services, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
President and CEO
Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America
Shortly after the post was made, more advocates for children with food allergies, as well as parents tweeted about the scene. That day, Twitter user @allergyarsenal tweeted, “I will be posting more about this tomorrow. I’m enraged. I thought the new peter rabbit movie looked stupid from the previews. Had no idea they were going to mock #foodallergies. We have to move, folks. We have to make our voices heard on this.” The tweet (shown below, left) received more than 200 retweets and 595 likes in three days.
Other users starting tweeting about the issue under the hashtag “#boycottpeterrabbit.” The following day, Twitter user @thomasmcmurry tweeted, “Warning For those who have children that live with food allergies (like mine), do NOT go see the new Peter Rabbit movie. Finding “humor” in bullying by Peter & friends to an allergy friend (who then needs an Epi) is sickening. Shame on @SonyPictures #BoycottPeterRabbit” The tweet (shown below, center) received more than 400 retweets and 945 likes in two days.
However, some reacted negatively to the backlash, implying that people were overreacting due to the content of the film. Twitter user @elektra6618 responded to tweet by the Associated Press about the backlash, “Oh good grief. Its a movie. About imaginary talking rabbits. Really?” The tweet (shown below, right) received more than 730 retweets and 5,000 likes in 24 hours.
On February 10th, Change.org user globalaai started a petition calling for an “Apology from Sony Pictures for irresponsible allergy bullying in Peter Rabbit Movie.” The petition garnered more than 10,000 signatures of its 15,000 signature goal in 48 hours.
On February 11th, Sony Pictures, the film’s studio, released a joint statement with the filmmakers, apologizing for the scene. They said that they should not have made light” of food allergies “even in a cartoonish, slapstick way.” They continued to say that they “sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologize.” The said:
“”Food allergies are a serious issue. Our film should not have made light of Peter Rabbit’s archnemesis, 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.”
Several media outlets covered the controversy, including The Washington Post, The New York Times, People, Fox News and more.
Several threads were made about the controversy on Reddit. On February 11th, Redditor Shinokao posted “[Serious] Peter Rabbit film criticised for depicting ‘allergy bullying’ | Film” in the /r/movies subreddit, where it received more than 495 points (82% upvotes) and 390 comments in 24 hours. The following day, Redditor AbCzar posted about the controversy in the /r/OutOfTheLoop subreddit, garnering more than 1,100 points (90% upvoted) and 170 comments.
On February 11th, Twitter published a Moments page regarding the controversy.