Thursday, February 15, 2018

How Not to Make a Kids' Movie

The new Peter Rabbit movie opened recently and has drawn a lot of criticism for its depiction of a group of rabbits attacking their nemesis with his known allergen. Using a slingshot, the rabbits shoot a blackberry into Tom McGregor's mouth causing him to have a severe allergic reaction and forcing him to his use his epipen. This is not actually the first time Sony Pictures has depicted severe food allergy reactions in kids' movies. Similarly harrowing scenes occur in Smurfs 2 and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Just a week or so before, in response to a news story out of Pennsylvania in which three teenagers were charged with a crime after one of them spread pineapple juice on her hand and then tried to touch a severely allergic classmate, I pointed out that this kind of thing happens a lot more than people think and that I don't expect things to change until there is some kind of shift in the way we think about allergies. Severe food allergies continue to be used as a source of laughs. If it's funny to portray people who swell up and struggle to breathe after exposure to an allergen, is it also funny to depict a child getting knocked out of a wheelchair or dying from a disease? People argue that we should all just loosen up a bit, but really?

Allergy-friendly homemade pizzas!
Every time anaphylaxis becomes the butt of a joke or a twist in the story line, and every time it's depicted unrealistically, it becomes that much harder to overcome the various stigmas and misconceptions still associated with food allergies. And, as a result, the risk to our kids gets graver.

When Pink was in second grade, another kid on the bus shoved a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in her face. Several other peers have joked about doing the same thing. I get it; most kids have no idea of the kind of injury they can cause by exposing a kid with allergies to something they're severely allergic to, but can you imagine never knowing whether or not someone will threaten to try to kill you today?

Kids with food allergies are often described as weaklings or snowflakes. Their parents are accused of being overprotective and enabling. I can't help but think that at least part of the reason for these risky behaviors and negative attitudes toward kids with allergies is the fact that allergies continue to be a joke.

Another of the hundreds of lunches Ren and I have prepared over the years.
Children like Pink are fierce. They encounter serious risk on a daily basis and take it in stride. They learn earlier than most how to advocate for themselves (by reading labels and making sure they have their epipens handy, for example); they quickly figure out how to deal with being excluded or treated differently from their peers; and they become pretty adept at finding alternatives and workarounds. Plus, learning these tough lessons over and over again teaches them empathy and compassion that will serve them well for life.

So, how about this? What if we lived in a world that accommodated kids with allergies like we accommodate all other kinds of difference? What if schools spent as much time on allergy education and awareness as they do about other kinds of disabilities? Pink has had classmates tell her that they didn't invite her to their party because of her allergies. Others have admitted that they haven't had her over because their parents are worried about possible exposure. I find it hard to believe that she would experience these kinds of things if allergies were more widely accepted and understood.

As my bento post earlier this week illustrates, most parents and kids living with allergies work hard to live a normal life. We figure out how to prepare safe alternatives of our kids favorite foods. Though, we carry an epipen wherever we go, we also seek to make sure that our children live not in fear but in courage. Day after day, we do the work.

After much pressure, Sony Entertainment apologized (way too late) for the tasteless scene in Peter Rabbit, but wouldn't it be great it Sony and others who have larger platforms than our kids (who often fight this fight alone) followed our kids examples and showed a little empathy and compassion without having to be coerced into it?

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