In My Opinion
Disney Pulls Episode of Popular Show over Portrayal of Gluten-Free Character
Recently, the Disney Channel pulled an episode of “Jessie” before it aired at its scheduled time. The reason? The episode was accessed by viewers through video-on-demand, and Disney received an earful about the way a gluten-intolerant character was treated and portrayed.
In the episode, Stuart, who is gluten-free, is described as having “a few minor dietary requirements. It’s just a short five-page list.” He refuses the pancakes that are being served and later a girl he is irritating throws pancakes at his face. When he cries, “Gluten!” another boy says, “He makes me look macho.” Stuart’s character is an annoying and picky one.
Before I actually watched the show, I read Change.org’s request that Disney Channel “stop using gluten-intolerance as an excuse to bully children with any disease, disorder or disability,” and I was expecting Stuart to be made fun of, ridiculed, and bullied for his gluten intolerance.
I didn’t see what I expected, and I watched that part of the episode over multiple times looking for it. What bothered me about the show was more subtle, and I think just as damaging. In a short amount of time, Stuart’s dietary requirements were overlooked, described as minor, and exaggerated (I doubt he really had a five-page list). What the show communicated was that dietary restrictions are a nuisance and really not important.
It’s no wonder Disney Channel heard from upset parents. The gluten-free diet is the only treatment for celiac disease (and gluten sensitivity), and consuming gluten can have serious consequences for those with the disease.
In my opinion, Disney passed up an important teaching moment. For a child with celiac disease, getting hit in the face with gluten containing food could cause a gluten reaction. The character didn’t know better because nobody taught her, but the show used it as something to laugh at.
Is eating gluten-free a nuisance? That’s a matter of opinion, but it is often times inconvenient, which is why most parents wouldn’t put their kids on a gluten-free diet unless it was important. The fact that it’s inconvenient is not the kid’s fault, and he/she shouldn’t ever be belittled for having to eat gluten free.
I’m glad that Disney Chanel took action and pulled the episode from the lineup when parents responded to the early viewing, because I think the show communicated a message that was harmful to those with dietary restrictions. To their credit, the Disney Chanel also posted an apology on their Facebook page.
With the gluten-free diet becoming a fad, due in large part to celebrities adopting it, much of the public is uninformed about why the majority of gluten-free eaters choose that lifestyle. Disney should not be uninformed. They should be helping to inform people by taking gluten intolerance and celiac disease seriously and reflecting that in their television shows.