You would think that, if you were spending $35 million on a film, you might also think to spend a few hundred dollars checking out the sensitivities around one of the more gripping scenes that you were shooting? But obviously not. Well, not if you are Sony Pictures.
Instead they have brought the righteous fury of allergy sufferers down on their heads for the scene in their new Peter Rabbit film in which Mr McGregor, who suffers from an oh-so-on-message anaphylactic allergy to blackberries, is pelted by the rabbits with a volley of those very fruits, one of which goes in his mouth. As a result he suffers an serious reaction and has to inject himself with an Epipen.
There is nothing wrong with in some way, including a serious allergic reaction in such a film. But only if it is sensitively handled. Indeed, sensitively handled, it would have been a great opportunity to get across messages about what allergy and even anaphylaxis is, the seriousness of the condition, how it can be managed, the dangers of ‘allergy bullying’ etc etc. But it was not sensitively handled.
None of us have yet had a chance to see more than the trailer – but that would suggest that the film makers will certainly not have held back on the anaphylaxis scene. Reports suggest that the rabbits’ bullying of Mr McGregor is portrayed not only as acceptable but laudable and that the anaphylactic reaction he suffers when the blackberry lands in his mouth is a big joke.
Absolutely rightly allergic families and campaigning organisations are up in arms. They are calling for the film to be boycotted – check in to #boycottpeterrabbit – and demanding apologies from Sony although it is hard to see what Sony could do at this point.
Campaigners point out that, quite apart from all of the wrong messages that the scene puts out, for children who actually have allergies, especially those who might need to (or might have already had to) use an Epipen, it could be very distressing.
Inevitably, there have also been calls for allergy sufferers to ‘lighten up’ – ‘this is a cartoon and they are only rabbits’…. But for children those rabbits are very real – and the scene is very real.
While one does not want children with allergies to be distressed, it is even more important that children without allergies do not get the idea that allergy is in any way a joke or that bullying an allergic person with food is an OK way to behave.
While you can prepare your allergic child for what they may see in the film and hopefully they will not therefore be too distressed by it, there is little one can do to get that message across to the millions of non-allergic children who will also see the film.
Unless of course, the outcry is so great that Sony withdraw the film and remake the scene – but I fear that is a vain hope.