By Sheryl Ubelacker
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
TORONTO _ Food Allergy Canada is warning movie-goers about a scene in “Peter Rabbit,” which has created an online backlash for appearing to mock people at risk for the potentially life-threatening condition anaphylaxis.
In the film, based on the popular children’s book by Beatrix Potter and released on the weekend, the character Tom McGregor must use an EpiPen after Peter Rabbit and his furry comrades pelt him with blackberries _ a fruit to which he has a severe allergy.
“Any time you take a serious medical condition and it become the butt of any jokes or it’s not taken seriously, it can be quite difficult and concerning for people,” Beatrice Povolo, a spokeswoman for Food Allergy Canada, said Monday.
Food allergies are a serious public health condition that affect almost 485,000 children in Canada and millions more worldwide, she said.
“And when it is portrayed in this type of fashion, it provides an impression that it’s not as serious as it is, and unfortunately it can be a life-threatening condition for some people.”
The movie’s creators and Sony Pictures, the studio behind them, issued a joint statement Sunday apologizing for being insensitive in their portrayal, saying that “food allergies are a serious issue” and the film “should not have made light” of a character being allergic to blackberries, “even in a cartoonish, slapstick way.”
On Monday, Food Allergy Canada posted a warning about the movie to its social media followers.
“Please be advised there is a reported scene in this children’s movie where a character is knowingly given his allergen, resulting in an anaphylactic reaction, requiring the use of his epinephrine auto-injector. Sony Pictures has since apologized for the scene,” the post reads.
“If you are considering seeing this film with your children, please talk to them beforehand and again following the movie. Any inappropriate depiction of food allergy highlights the need for greater awareness and education in the wider community. We will continue to work toward raising awareness and education regarding the seriousness of food allergy and to encourage respectful and informed dialogues about food allergy.”
The U.S. charity group Kids with Food Allergies has also posted a warning about the scene on its Facebook page, prompting some on Twitter to start using the hashtag #boycottpeterrabbit.
The group said that allergy jokes are harmful to their community and that making light of the condition “encourages the public not to take the risk of allergic reactions seriously.”
Kenneth Mendez, president and CEO of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, wrote an open letter to the studio asking for the opportunity to educate the company and the film’s cast on the realities of food allergies and urged the studio to “examine your portrayal of bullying in your films geared toward a young audience.”