In the new film Peter Rabbit, a food allergy is used as a punchline — and some parents aren’t laughing. The family comedy features a scene in which Peter (voiced by James Corden) and his fellow computer-animated bunnies shoot blackberries into the mouth of rabbit-hating human Tom McGregor (Domhnall Gleeson). McGregor, who is allergic to blackberries, goes into anaphylactic shock and must use an EpiPen to treat his reaction. For families dealing with food allergies (which affect approximately 4.2 million children in the U.S.), the blackberry scene struck a sour note. The hashtag #BoycottPeterRabbit has been trending since the film opened this past weekend, prompting an apology from Sony Pictures.
“Food allergies are a serious issue,” the studio acknowledged in a statement. “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.”
Inevitably, there’s been some backlash on social media, with Peter Rabbit objectors accused of getting riled up about a silly bunny movie.
Have the #boycottpeterrabbit brigade ever read Peter Rabbit? It’s Victorian and dark, the first book in the series tells us about dad who ended up in a pie.. we live in a very fragile #snowflake world were we only see the world from our own perspective.
— PersonCentred1338 (@slider1338) February 12, 2018
Just read this drivel today, #boycottpeterrabbit people getting offended over kids films. I remember violent cartoons as a child and I don’t recall brutally killing anyone growing up. Have some faith in your kids, breathe, and remember its just a stupid film about talking rabbits
— Nick Fitzpatrick (@nicknogger) February 11, 2018
However, the hashtag includes many more heartbreaking posts from people who have struggled to have their children’s life-threatening allergies taken seriously, and worry about the message that Peter Rabbit is sending.
Sickened by hearing about the food allergy scene in #PeterRabbitMovie. We fight so hard to get #foodallergies taken seriously. Amazing that my 4 year old who’s deathly allergic to peanuts is pretty much getting bullied by a movie.#boycottpeterrabbit
— Kelly Short (@dsnygal12) February 10, 2018
Throwing a known allergen at someone isn’t bullying, it’s attempted murder. If you think that’s funny, here’s hoping you have a first hand experience to learn the truth.#boycottpeterrabbit In my family a child nearly died from allergy bullying, it must be stopped, not laughed at
— AlphaCatPennsylvania (@AlphaCatPA) February 11, 2018
**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
— Tom Murray (@thomascmurray) February 10, 2018
As a mother of a toddler allergic to several foods, I am disgusted that Sony would make a joke out of flicking an allergen at a food allergic individual. Doing so is felony aggravated assault! What kind of message does that scene send to kids?! #boycottpeterrabbit
— hydrogirl71 (@hydrogirl71) February 10, 2018
In a Facebook post that has been shared more than 12,000 times, the Kids with Food Allergies Foundation urged parents to talk to their children about the scene in the film. “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,” the organization wrote. “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.”
The group, a division of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, has offered to sit down with the studio and filmmakers in an effort to “promote positive attitudes and safe environments for those with disabilities such as food allergies.”
Peter Rabbit opened to $25 million this weekend at the U.S. box office, behind No. 1 movie Fifty Shades Freed.