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Peter Rabbit Anaphylaxis Scene – our views in full

Allergy UK was asked to join in debates and to comment in various media outlets throughout the day on Monday, following the release of the Peter Rabbit film in the US and Australia last weekend.

One scene shows Peter Rabbit and his friends attacking their arch nemesis, Tom McGregor, by throwing blackberries at him. Tom is allergic to blackberries and starts to experience anaphylaxis (a life threatening allergic reaction), he then has to inject himself with an adrenaline auto-injector.

Whilst the film hasn’t been released in the UK yet, this particular scene was brought to our attention by allergy organisations in both Australia and the US who shared concerns that it did not promote a positive, educational message when it comes to safeguarding those with severe food allergies (anaphylaxis). There were also concerns raised that the scene could be seen as encouraging ‘allergy bullying’.

There have been some pretty heated debates on the topic, with some stating that the term ‘allergy bullying’ is too strong, and that the allergic community is being over sensitive.

Unfortunately, allergy bullying is a real thing. It may not happen to everyone, but for those subject to this kind of cruelty, the consequences can be fatal. In fact, a 13-year-old boy with a dairy allergy tragically lost his life last year after suffering a severe reaction to a piece of cheese which was allegedly forced on him by other pupils.

Allergy bullying is real. And the last thing we want as a community is for a popular children’s character to be encouraging behaviour which could seriously endanger the life of someone at risk of anaphylaxis. Making light of allergy detracts from all the hard work carried out by members of the allergy community. It is an ongoing, uphill struggle to improve education and understanding of allergy, and to ensure that the wider public is aware of its dangers, particularly when it comes to anaphylaxis.

Allergy UK released its official statement on Monday 12th February, but despite making our position very clear in the statement and in various interviews throughout the day, some comments have been circulated on social media that we feel we need to address.

Statements made about us:

“Allergy UK supports Peter Rabbit boycott”

Whilst we appreciate why some parents / allergy sufferers may feel this is the appropriate action to take, Allergy UK’s position is that the scene itself is not appropriate. The charity is therefore calling for the filmmakers to edit out the scene and to consider the way in which this scene might be presented, so as to educate a young audience on the seriousness of allergic disease, rather than to make light of it. Allergy UK has been trying to make contact with the production company to discuss ways of addressing this issue and to find ways to collaboratively ensure that educational messages around severe allergy are introduced and general awareness improved.

“As an organisation you should be taking this opportunity to educate and raise awareness”

We agree that this issue has created a huge amount of awareness around allergy, but from monitoring the conversation closely, the lack of empathy and understanding for those with allergy hasn’t been wholly encouraging.

Whilst we appreciate that the issue has given allergy a platform to be discussed, we really do feel that the writers’ treatment of this scene was inappropriate. Using allergic disease as a weakness and as a method of attack does not help us in our quest to educate the wider public on the real life risks of living with anaphylaxis.

From what we have been told, the scene in question does not portray anaphylaxis in a realistic and responsible way, nor does it accurately demonstrate what to do in the event that someone is suffering from an anaphylactic reaction.

By commenting in the media and on social media, we hope that we have helped some people to understand why there are genuine concerns about this scene in particular. Our intention throughout our media commentary has been to educate the wider public about the real issues faced by people with allergy and we hope that we have gone some way to do this.

We would also hope that by raising awareness around the potential dangers of portraying allergy inaccurately; that other subsequent films released which intend to include scenes or messaging around allergic disease, are done so in a way which is not only accurate, but educational. Allergy UK would welcome any screenwriters to contact us so that we can work with them to ensure that this is achieved.

Statements made about people with allergy:

“If you’re offended by the scene – don’t watch it”

Some parents of allergic children have stated that they will not be taking their children to see the film, as they are concerned that the scene could amplify their child’s anxieties around anaphylaxis (particularly for those who have previously experienced it). For some, not showing their children the scene will help to protect them from any further feelings of fear and apprehension that they may already be battling as part of learning to live with allergic disease. For others, the real concern is that there will be many children who are not already familiar with allergy who will watch the film, which brings us to our final point…

“Bullying isn’t encouraged by films, it’s about good parenting”

As well as concerns around an allergic child’s emotional response to this scene, we consider the use of humour to portray something as serious as anaphylaxis, as irresponsible and potentially dangerous. Young children can be impressionable.

Of course not all children will bully, and thankfully not all children with allergy will ever be subject to bullying. But when a child’s favourite character is throwing a substance at an enemy as an act of self-defence or revenge, with the intent on causing an allergic reaction, and that it’s seen as funny by viewers, can we be sure that not one of the millions of children who watch this film will mimic this behaviour in the playground? Even innocently?

The British Board of Film Classification rated this movie a PG. In their guidelines, they state the following when it comes to imitable behaviour:

Imitable behaviour -  No detail of potentially dangerous behaviour which young children are likely to copy, if that behaviour is presented as safe or fun. No glamorisation of realistic or easily accessible weapons such as knives. No focus on anti-social behaviour which young children are likely to copy.

The issue here is that the potentially dangerous behaviour is presented as fun, but it isn’t safe. Children may copy behaviours if they think they are fun, usually not understanding the potential consequences of their own actions. 

In an emailed statement on Sunday, the filmmakers and Sony Pictures apologised: “Food allergies are a serious issue. 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.”

We know that not everyone will have the same point of view on this issue, and there is even a split of opinion within the allergic community itself, but as a charity who works to better the lives of those living with allergic disease, we see this as a misguided representation of the seriousness of living with a severe allergic condition.

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