Entertainment behemoth Sony issued an apology over the weekend for a scene in the new family comedy Peter Rabbit wherein the titular character — a CGI varmint voiced by late night host James Corden — uses a slingshot to send a blackberry into a farmer’s mouth, thus inducing anaphylactic shock. As several parents point out on social media, the film makes light of severe allergies while also showing the hero using food as a weapon to topple his enemy.
In a statement sent to the New York Times, Sony and the filmmakers explain: “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.”
Last week, an advocacy group called Kids With Food Allergies issued a warning to its followers about the film on Facebook, followed by an open letter to the filmmakers, which reads, in part: “We encourage you to examine your portrayal of bullying in your films geared toward a young audience. We strongly urge you to refrain from the type of programming that mocks food allergies in the future.” The original Facebook warning got shared over 12,000 since it was posted last Friday, and angry parents also took to Twitter over the weekend to spread the word about the blackberry slingshot sequence.
This scene presents an especially tricky problem for parents like Sam Rose of Guildford, England, whose son loves Peter Rabbit, but has food allergies like the one depicted in the film. “I’m pretty sure Beatrix Potter will be turning in her grave about now,” Rose tells the Times. “Allergies are often not taken seriously enough anyway. To have them trivialized on the big screen by such a popular character is immensely disappointing.”
So far, the backlash from parents of children with food allergies doesn’t appear to be hurting the film’s performance at the box office — Peter Rabbit landed at number two over the weekend, right behind Fifty Shades Freed, with a haul of $25 million.