The Production Code Administration is often considered to be a “censor board.” When people think of Joseph I. Breen and his work as chief enforcer of the Motion Picture Production Code, they think of him timing kisses, banning violence, and raising necklines. However, there was another part of the job that is often overlooked by modern film historians. Many people have forgotten that another very important aspect of the PCA’s job was that of an advisory and public relations board. Throughout history, filmmakers have had a very bad sense of what is in good taste. They have always been completely out of touch with the feelings and sensibilities of average Americans. They have a real talent for finding topics, stories, and ideas that will be controversial, offensive, and downright explosive. They naturally gravitate toward such stories, often in complete ignorance of the troubles they are going to bring on themselves. It is for that reason that the PCA had to act as an advisory board. Unlike filmmakers, PCA members were highly aware of opinions, prejudices, sensibilities, and sensitivities of the different aspects of American society. They tried to make filmmakers sensitive to the feelings and pride of the various religions, races, and groups throughout the country.
The PCA helped the studios to avoid many controversies and scandals, plus a lot of bad publicity. In modern society, many people praise the MPAA’s rating system, which was formed in replacement of the Code in 1968. The Classification And Rating Administration (CARA) doesn’t give any guidance or advice in terms of film content; all they do is classify films. Their main intention is to provide information so that parents can choose what films they bring their children to see. Naturally, that doesn’t include giving advise to the filmmakers.
Filmmakers are as reckless as ever, and modern individuals are very sensitive in some areas, so the film industry has been running into some problems recently. One of the greatest examples of this is a children’s film that was recently released by Sony Pictures.
Peter Rabbit was released into theatres on February 9 by Sony Pictures. It is a combination of computer-generated animals and live-action humans that tells the story of Peter Rabbit, very loosely based on books by Beatrix Potter. It was given Certificate No. 50848 by CARA. It was rated PG “for some rude humor and action.” As time would tell, some of the action was more than rude and certainly not humorous. Within a few days of the film’s release, people had begun to voice concerns about the film on social media. A word which is now all-too rare, boycott, appeared on Twitter in the hashtag #BoycottPeterRabbit.
The root of this controversy was a scene between Mr. McGregor, the human villain, and Peter, the rabbit protagonist. The entire movie is centered around the fight between the animal-hating Mr. McGregor and the rabbits. However, in the scene in question, Peter throws blackberries at Tom McGregor. Normally, this would be a silly and amusing form of self-defense. In this instance, the situation has a sinister side because Mr. McGregor has a very serious allergy to blackberries. Peter is aware of this and is attempting to use this knowledge to intentionally harm Mr. McGregor. One blackberry goes right into the human’s mouth. His face turns red, and he goes into an anaphylactic shock before collapsing. He manages to stab himself with an EpiPen. He doesn’t die, but the scenario is still very alarming and disturbing, especially considering the fact that it is in a “children’s movie.” You might think that this is ridiculous, but one out of thirteen American children has a food allergy, so the scene was very disturbing to many allergy organizations and parents with children who have food allergies.
The day after the film’s release, Kenneth Mendez, the president and chief executive of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, wrote an open letter to the filmmakers: https://community.kidswithfoodallergies.org/blog/letter-to-the-makers-of-the-peter-rabbit-movie-jokes-about-food-allergies-can-put-people-in-danger. In this cordial but firm letter, Mr. Mendez said, “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,” wisely pointing out that recently “there have been distressing accounts of children using food to bully and assault children with food allergies, and some cases have resulted in death for the child with food allergies and criminal charges for the attackers.” The Food and Allergy Research and Education organization issued a warning on their Facebook page about the offending scene in Peter Rabbit, offering the information “so that families are able to make an informed choice before seeing this movie.” Controversy was also created across the pond, where both individual citizens and organizations were offended. Carla Jones, the chief executive of Allergy UK, said, “Anaphylaxis can and does kill. To include a scene in a children’s film that includes a serious allergic reaction and not to do it responsibly is unacceptable. Mocking allergic disease shows a complete lack of understanding of the seriousness of allergy and trivialises the challenges faced by those with this condition.” In Australia, the Global Anaphylaxis Awareness and Inclusivity (Globalaai) group said the film “mocks the seriousness of allergic disease and is heartbreakingly disrespectful to the families of those that have lost loved ones. Furthermore this is a socially irresponsible depiction in a movie aimed at children and based on an iconic and classic children’s story.” Their concern is very easy to understand when one considers the fact that one out of ten children in Australia has a food allergy. Globalaai started a petition asking for an apology from Sony at Change.org. To date, this petition has received 18,153 signatures.
On February 11, Sony Films issued an apology, saying, “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.” The next day, the story hit the news. Social media activity continued, with many people responding that people who were offended are “snowflakes.”
Unfortunately, Sony’s apology seemed to appease most people. It seems that many individuals simply wanted the public to be warned about this dangerous scene. Once the story hit the news, the movement to boycott the picture didn’t go any further. I think the main problem with the movement was that it lacked organization and it lacked a clear goal. In the past, Columbia, which is the film company within Sony that made the picture, would have withdrawn Peter Rabbit from theaters and made cuts before continuing to play it. Instead, they simply apologized and proceeded to make over $335,000,000! As in the past, controversy probably was good publicity for the film, since a lot of people wanted to see what was making everyone so upset.
The cinema has become exactly what the PCA fought day and night to keep it from being: a School of Immorality and a School of Crime. Last year, a boy at a British high school forced his thirteen-year-old classmate to eat cheese, knowing that the latter had a food allergy. The poor boy died from a reaction to the cheese. If this boy did that without having seen a Hollywood “hero” do such a thing, how many more children may follow the horrible example of Peter, the “rascal rebel rabbit?” Are we going to continue to allow Hollywood to fill our children’s minds with cruel, deadly ideas in the name of entertainment? Bullying is a growing threat in our country and world, and yet we allow movies like Peter Rabbit to flourish.
Join others on social media who are fighting to make the filmmakers realize how dangerous their movie is. They shouldn’t make a fortune on a movie like this. What we need is action! We shouldn’t just sit around and complain, being content with an empty apology. Children can be forgiven with just apologies. These filmmakers are adults with a lot of influence and responsibility. They should be made to face their responsibilities and pay for their actions. I do mean pay. They need to be hurt financially to make any change.
Write to Sony and tell them how offended you are by this dangerous motion picture. Here is the address of the CEO:
Chairman and CEO
Sony Pictures Entertainment
10202 West Washington Boulevard
Culver City, California 90232
You can write a letter something like this:
Dear Mr. Vincinquerra,
I am shocked by your motion picture, Peter Rabbit. Many individuals have expressed great concern about the scene in which Peter throws blackberries at Tom McGregor and intentionally causes him to go into anaphylactic shock. In response, you issued an apology and admitted that you had made a mistake, yet you did nothing further to rectify it. You neither removed the film from theaters nor cut the offending scene. This is too dangerous a topic to be solved with a simple apology. It required action on your part.
It is probably too late for you to do anything to fix the situation with this movie. However, I hope that you will be more considerate in the future. Immature people take movies and other entertainment as the absolute truth and as examples of how to live. Our whole society is effected by the content that Sony and other film companies produce. With this comes great responsibility, and I feel that you are taking it too lightly. Because of movies like this, I never watch new movies. You have to earn my trust again to gain my business.
In 1934, filmmakers decided to make films with integrity and quality by adopting the Motion Picture Production Code. As a result, there was a Golden Age of entertainment, in which filmmakers avoided dangerous and inappropriate material. Because of this, they made the highest type of entertainment which brought them huge profits. There is a new movement to bring back the Code and create a new Golden Era of Hollywood through clean entertainment. It is called the Pure Entertainment Preservation Society: http://www.pureentertainmentpreservationsociety.wordpress.com.
Please tell Charles H. Rivkin of the MPAA that you think you should bring back the Code. It wasn’t censorship. It was self-regulation that made filmmakers their best profits ever!
Thank you for your time and for making the right decision concerning our world’s entertainment.
If every person who reads this sends a letter similar to that to Tony Vincinquerra, it could make a big difference. An email or a phone call just isn’t the same. He would be impressed by a desk overflowing with letters! You can add your own thoughts and feelings to the letter. That’s just an example. Please share this on social media, email it to your friends, and, above all, send a letter. We have a right to free speech and a right to have some control over the sort of entertainment we are given. It’s about time the American public rises up and overthrows the tyranny of ruthless film bosses.
To the makers of Peter Rabbit, the blackberry scene may be just a little joke, but to millions of children with food allergies, an imitation of that scene could be a joke that would costs them their lives.
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