Epilepsy group has advice for Pixar following its photosensitivity faux paus

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Last month, Disney's Pixar released the highly anticipated Incredibles 2 which brought home $183.2 at the domestic box office over its opening weekend and replaced Finding Dory as the biggest release ever for an animated film. However, not all of the feedback for this sequel was positive, as viewers with photosensitive epilepsy and other related health conditions were blindsided by over 90 seconds of intense strobe lights. 

About 3% of those who suffer from epilepsy are categorized as being photosensitive, meaning that visual stimuli like flashing lights or patterns at certain frequencies can trigger seizures. Additionally, sufferers of other health conditions, like chronic migraines, impaired eyesight, or PTSD, to name a few, can also be affected by the extended sequences of flashing lights, health experts say. 

Shocked viewers took to social media to express their disbelief, as tweets and blog posts went viral when the movie first premiered with no posted warnings. Moviegoers recounted witnessing fellow viewers of all ages experiencing discomfort, nausea, vomiting, and in some cases, full-blown seizures throughout the movie. 

The morning after the movie premiered, the Epilepsy Foundation tweeted, “People who live with photosensitive epilepsy, you may want to be cautious about seeing this film,” and elaborated on the topic in a statement on their website. 

That same morning, Disney requested that all theaters showing the movie post a notice to warn viewers about the possible triggers. 

A representative said the Epilepsy Foundation had reached out to Disney in hopes of discussing the Incredibles 2 scene but has yet to hear back from the filmmaker. 

Still, the question remains: why didn't Disney release this warning at the time the film premiered? 

Conroy Boxhill, founder of crisis and brand reputation management firm Gladiator RMS, which works with clients in the entertainment business, weighed in, pointing out that “[companies like Disney] have an especially higher level of expectations [when it comes to respect for health issues], due to the audience being children and families.” 

Moreover, according to Boxhill, child psychologists and other experts commonly review pieces of films geared toward this demographic to make sure they meet the appropriate content standards. 

Director of PR and Media Relations for the Epilepsy Foundation Jacqueline Aker said she believes this was definitely an avoidable mistake, as this oversight is not the first of its kind. 

In fact, the foundation encountered a similar issue with a recently released Apple iPad commercial that featured flashing lights. When the foundation brought the concern to Apple's attention, the company immediately took down the commercial. Akers said that the technology company wants to continue to work with the foundation to avoid mishaps like this going forward. 

And that's far from the only one. Twilight's Breaking Dawn Part I prompted the Epilepsy Foundation to release a tweet in 2011 similar to their warning regarding Incredibles 2, as the flashing white lights in the film's gory birth scene triggered seizures in numerous viewers. 

Perhaps the largest incident like this occurred with a 1997 episode of the popular children's anime series Pokémon, which triggered photosensitive seizures in almost 700 young viewers. Japanese press dubbed the incident “Pokémon Shock,” and in response, the show went on a four-month hiatus, and Nintendo pulled the episode from ever being rebroadcast. 

While Disney's request for a warning sign was a much smaller-scale response than that of Nintendo or Apple, Aker characterized the company's reaction as “definitely a good thing. It's better late than never, because people will still go to the theaters and see the movie.” 

And she's not alone, as many fans are hailing Disney's warning as a huge step in the right direction for those dealing with photosensitivity. According to the site Bustle, a portion of fans feel that a company as large as Disney addressing an issue like this is actually very rare. 

That said, in the wake of this incident, Disney has felt the heat in the form of box office returns. While Incredibles 2 initially shattered sales records, within a week the film joined the fabled $100 Million Losers Club, per Forbes. The difference of opening weekend sales and the second weekend sales was over $100 million, marking a 56% decrease. 

Whether or not the strobe light slip-up had to do with this decrease remains uncertain.

Ultimately, Aker has one suggestion for the filmmaker in hopes of creating a happy medium for the company and the impacted viewers: to produce a photosensitivity-safe DVD version of the Incredibles sequel.

“People [with photosensitivity] love Disney, and they would love to watch the movie,” Aker reasoned, “but they can't. This would be an awesome option for people who have this health condition.” 

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