It’s not often that parents boycott a PG-rated movie, but when Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit was released into theaters last week, it didn’t take long for a public outcry to sweep the nation, and the hashtag #BoycottPeterRabbit to take over the Internet.
The scene that has so many people riled up, portrays Mr. McGregor — the film’s depicted villain — attempting to get a group of rascally rabbits out of his garden. The rabbits, however, band together, and begin pelting Mr. McGregor with blackberries. And while most may see that as a harmless and relatively non-violent portrayal of war in a children’s movie, the issue is that Mr. McGregor is severely allergic to blackberries — and when one is slingshot directly into his mouth, he is seen grabbing at his throat, struggling to breathe, desperately trying to inject his EpiPen, and eventually collapsing on the ground, while the rabbits cheer in victory.
For any child with a food allergy, seeing that flashed across the big screen is absolutely terrifying, because it’s not just a fantastical scene; it is their real life.
Last year for Easter, my husband and I took our children to a waterpark hotel. And what should have been an amazing time took a very scary turn when I ordered a gluten-free room service meal, and was unknowingly served one containing gluten. Twenty minutes later, hotel staff attempted to comfort my panicked and crying children in the hallway, while paramedics worked to get me breathing again on the hotel room floor.
It was not something that I wanted my children to ever see, and since they too have the same food intolerances that I do, they are now terrified of ever coming in contact with gluten-filled food, and will often cry before trying something they’ve never eaten before, even if I’ve assured them that it’s safe.
Food allergies are not a joke, and to watch it portrayed as one in a children’s movie is a bit unsettling.
I have a 9-year-old daughter who watched The Descendants and then proceeded to carry a microphone around the house for the next two weeks, singing for anyone who would give her a minute. And I have a 6-year-old boy that watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles so many times that I had to ban it from our house after he tried to karate chop our babysitter.
Children see themselves in movies; it’s part of what draws them in. They relate to the characters on screen, and they want to become the people flashing before their eyes.
So when they see a character onscreen who is dying from a condition that they live with every day, it’s nothing short of traumatizing, because it reminds them that they too, might suffer the same fate. And as a parent, I worry about sending my children to school, where hurting someone by exploiting their allergy is just as real of a concept as it is for mass shooters who got their ideas from violent video games and movies.
On Saturday, The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s Kids With Food Allergies division published an open letter expressing the seriousness of food allergies, and encouraging Sony “to examine your portrayal of bullying in your films geared toward a young audience.”
In response, Sony released a statement on Sunday saying that they “sincerely regret not being more aware and sensitive to this issue, and we truly apologize.”
I am happy that awareness is being raised and our voices are being heard. It’s a good reminder to us all that in a nation thriving on acceptance and inclusion, we still have a long way to go — and where that starts is with the next generation.
Children are learning from the messages we send, and when we make that message 15 feet tall and flash it on a screen in front of them, it’s a good idea to make sure that their takeaway is something we actually want them to learn.