Celiac disease is no laughing matter — something Disney Channel learned the hard way last week, when parental outrage over a few gluten-based jokes led the network to pull an episode of Jessie from its schedule. The ep was supposed to air May 17.
The jokes in question were aimed at a character named Stuart, a bespectacled 9-year-old with five pages worth of dietary requirements. Among them: He either can’t or won’t eat gluten. When he gives 8-year-old Zuri a gift basket, she rejects the gift and tells him that if he calls her “sweetie” again, he’ll “be eating some gluten-free knuckles.” Zuri also tosses a pancake at Stuart, causing him to shriek “gluten!” and cower, wiping his face furiously. (“He makes me look macho,” quips Zuri’s brother Ravi.)
Parents of kids with gluten intolerance who caught the episode early via VOD were not amused. “For my kids, this is real. They have had friends make fun of their food, been disinvited to parties because of their diet. They have been made to sit alone, have had waitstaff roll their eyes and snidely comment about their requests to make their food safe for them to eat,” Pennsylvania mother Amy Raslevich wrote in a Change.org petition calling for Disney to “stop bullying gluten-intolerant characters.”
“Their condition is real, and their feelings are real,” she continued. “Yet Disney gave children permission, and an example, to further isolate my children and others like them because of their medical conditions.”
The petition was posted on May 17 and soon exceeded its goal of ,1500 signatures, attracting 2,137 signees in all. Before long, Disney posted a message on its Facebook page saying that the episode has been yanked. “We are removing this particular episode from our regular programming schedule and will re-evaluate its references to gluten restrictions in the character’s diet,” Disney wrote. “Please accept our apologies for the upset this episode caused you and your family.”
When asked for comment, a rep for Disney echoed the Facebook statement, adding, “The episode’s removal from each local on-demand menu has been occurring since Friday, processing through cable systems.”