The creator of Wallace & Gromit, Aardman Animations, has bowed to international pressure after being accused of poking fun at leprosy sufferers in its latest blockbuster film.
Aardman yesterday announced that the offending 'leper' scene in The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists, set for release in March, will be changed “out of respect and sensitivity” after being convinced that the scene could increase stigma and discrimination for millions of leprosy sufferers.
The scene showed the main pirate character landing on a so called 'leper ship' looking for gold, but is then clearly aghast when the 'leper's' arm falls off. It has already been seen on the film’s trailer by hundreds of thousands of people on You Tube and in cinemas worldwide, but Aardman will now remove all offensive references to leprosy.
An article on The Independent’s website about the leprosy scene earlier this month triggered a campaign condemning the filmmakers’ insensitivity. Stephen Fry, a prolific and popular user of Twitter, became engaged in a heated debate with Pirates’ author Gideon Defoe, about the fine line between comedy and discrimination.
The World Health Organisation and Lepra Health in Action were among those to signal their condemnation at the scene which they said could undo the benefits of health education in one foul swoop. A person is diagnosed with the disease every two minutes but thousands of people avoid seeing a doctor, put off by the stigma and discrimination that still exists.
An Aardman spokesman said: “The last thing anyone intended was to offend anyone and it is clear to us that the right way to proceed is to honour the efforts made by organizations like LEPRA and the World Health Organization to educate the public about this disease.'
Chief executive of LEPRA, Sarah Nancollas, said: “We are genuinely delighted that Aardman and Sony Pictures have made this decision, though obviously we will have to wait to see the final film to see it was dealt with. Without the Independent coverage this would not have happened.”
“Leprosy is a much misunderstood condition. Hopefully this publicity will help to reduce the damage that has already been done with the use of this trailer across the world.”