‘Five Feet Apart’ sparks a cystic fibrosis controversy

Katie Leskovec, Staff Writer

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Earning $13 million over its debut weekend, the CBS Films movie, Five Feet Apart, created controversy within the cystic fibrosis community.

Starring Cole Sprouse and Haley Lu Richardson, Five Feet Apart is about two teens with cystic fibrosis who want to break the rules of infection control to be in a relationship.

Cystic fibrosis is a “progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time,” according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. It causes persistent coughing and frequent lung infections, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. It is genetic and must be carried by both parents for the child to inherit it. Because of this, about 50% of children carry the gene, but only 25% have cystic fibrosis.

One of the main aspects of the disease is infection control. People with cystic fibrosis cannot get six feet within each other.  This is because they catch infections extremely easily, and their lungs tend to harbor bacteria.  According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, “People with CF are at greater risk of getting lung infections because thick, sticky mucus builds up in their lungs, allowing germs to thrive and multiply.” Therefore, when two or more CF patients are close to one another, they risk sharing these bacteria and getting an infection. The CFF website details the policy:

The latest medical data show that people with CF can spread or get particularly dangerous germs from each other, which can lead to worse symptoms and speed decline in lung function. To reduce the risk of spreading or getting germs, it is recommended that people who have CF keep at least 6 feet away from others with CF and from people who are sick. It is also recommended that people with CF who do not live together avoid activities that put them in close physical contact with others with CF, including:

• Shaking hands, hugging or kissing
• Sharing common objects like pens, toys and computers
• Being together in enclosed or poorly ventilated places like cars

Cole Sprouse and Hailey Lu Richardson at the Critic’s Choice Awardseach other’s infections.

Infection control plays a major role in the movie, as it shows the main characters breaking the rules to be with each other. This has sparked a major controversy within the cystic fibrosis community. Many people believe the movie is showing those with cystic fibrosis that breaking the rules is okay.

Julia Rae in her outside-of-hospital-room attire.

Julia Rae, a cystic fibrosis patient, spoke out about this on her blog. She wrote, “The trailer shows the main characters touching each others’ medications and walking together with no masks. No responsible doctor or nurse would allow or promote this.” She voiced her concerns to director Justin Baldoni. He said that he consulted a CF patient and nurse. He also added that “this is a film and creative license is always necessary to tell a complete story in two hours.” Julia argued that cystic fibrosis and infection control “is not a topic that allows any room for ‘creative license.’”

Gunnar Esiason, another cystic fibrosis advocate, as well as Rae’s friend, said, “Some people seem to think it is an enormously positive thing to get cystic fibrosis out there on the silver screen. Other people, like me, think it’s a pathetic for-profit attempt to capitalize on a very narrow issue that gives a lot of people with cystic fibrosis extreme anxiety and stress: cross-infection between two kids with CF.”

However, some people like the idea of cystic fibrosis being in the spotlight. Morgan, a vlogger with CF, saw the movie as a good idea. In his review of the trailer, he said, “You can tell this is very romanticized, and it’s getting The Fault in Our Stars treatment, but that is what will drive people to theaters. And when people get to theaters, they’re gonna see this movie and it’s gonna increase awareness for cystic fibrosis. So, I see it as a good thing.”

As for my opinion, I enjoyed the movie. It was made very well and had a good story line. The acting was really good, and I liked the characters, except for their occasional stupidity. The ending, however, was too unexpected, and I felt that it wasn’t explained enough. I do think that the filmmakers were trying to bringing attention to cystic fibrosis, but I feel like they could have used a different approach that didn’t involve breaking the infection control rules. But overall, I enjoyed the movie and would recommend it.