AceShowbiz - The filmmakers and studio behind the new "Peter Rabbit" movie have issued an apology after food allergy advocacy groups have called for a boycott of the film. Organizations in the United States and Australia have slammed the live-action/CGI animated take on Beatrix Potter's classic children's books for its portrayal of "food allergy bullying."
A scene in the movie which has upset community groups features rabbits intentionally attacking the character of Mr. McGregor, who is portrayed by actor Domhnall Gleeson, with blackberries, the food he is allergic to, in order to provoke a reaction. The human character is then forced to use an EpiPen.
A viewer advisory post on the Kids With Food Allergies Foundation Facebook page has garnered more than 1,100 likes and been shared nearly 1,000 times. The post, which was shared on Saturday, February 10 and addressed to the makers of the movie, began, "We are aware that the reactions about this movie by our community are mixed."
"It is unnecessary for a film to show the characters intentionally attacking another with his food allergen to trigger anaphylaxis," it continued. "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."
The overwhelming response prompted health executives to publicly slam the production company of the film, which also stars Rose Byrne and features the voice of James Corden as the titular animal. "The segment featured the intentional attack of the McGregor [Gleeson] character with the food he is allergic to - the implication being that the rabbits wanted to kill or harm McGregor with this method," Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America president Kenneth Mendez wrote in an open letter to Sony Pictures.
"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,' " they continued, before noting that 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."
Australian group Global Anaphylaxis Awareness and Inclusivity (Globalaai) has since created a petition calling for the studio to apologize, pointing out that the said scene is socially irresponsible. "This mocks the seriousness of allergic disease and is heartbreakingly disrespectful to the families of those that have lost loved ones to anaphylaxis," reads the petition. "To spread a message that condones such victimising and dangerous behaviour amongst children is grossly offensive to worldwide viewers, especially those who live with severe allergic disease."
In response to the controversy, Sony released a statement on Sunday, February 11 in which they apologized and said that the film "should not have made light" of a character being allergic to blackberries "even in a cartoonish" way.
"Peter Rabbit" is currently playing in U.S. cinemas.