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Influencers Delete 'Five Feet Apart' Ads After Backlash From Cystic Fibrosis Community


Over the weekend between March 8-10, six influencers posted advertisements on Instagram for the upcoming film “Five Feet Apart,” which premieres Friday, March 15. However, all six ads were quickly removed due to backlash.

“Five Feet Apart” follows teens Will (Cole Sprouse) and Stella (Haley Lu Richardson), whose characters are in love but both have cystic fibrosis, a persistent genetic condition that affects the lungs. They are staying in a hospital where they must keep a safe distance to prevent transferring any germs that could get either of them sick. People with CF can transfer germs that lead to lung infections, which is why there’s a rule that people with the condition should maintain a recommended physical distance of six feet from each other.

The theme of “physical distance” seemed to inspire the film’s advertising campaign, as the six Instagram influencers — Bailee Madison, Annie LeBlanc, Jayden Bartles, Lily Chee, Brooke Butler and Alan Stokes — each explained in their sponsored posts how they can relate, because they’ve experienced a long distance relationship. None of the influencers has cystic fibrosis or mentions having another chronic condition.

For instance, Annie LeBlanc wrote in her now-deleted post:

#ad Thinking of my cousin Paige today! Similar to the new movie, @fivefeetapartfilm, she has always been there for me even though we’re separated by a distance – she lives in a different state but is always only a phone call away. She has always been someone who has taught me about compassion and being patient with others. Tag someone in the comments below who you might not be near to, but who will always be close to your heart! For each person tagged on any partner’s post, $1 will be donated to cystic fibrosis research (up to $5k!) #FiveFeetApart #LoveConquersAll

Jayden Bartles shared:

#ad My brothers moved away when I was younger, and I miss them so much. I can relate to the characters in @fivefeetapartfilm who can’t hug or touch, but still help each other overcome life’s obstacles. My brothers and I try to talk on the phone as much as possible and they are always there for me when I need them. Tag someone who may not be near you right now but will always be close to your heart. For each person tagged on any partner’s post, $1 will be donated to cystic fibrosis research (up to $5k!) #fivefeetapart #loveconquersall

Around the same time the ads were posted, media company ATTN shared a (now deleted) video with a similar message. The video compared the physical distance Will and Stella must maintain due to CF in the film to the long-distance relationship between a woman and her husband, who is serving in the military overseas.

The Instagram ads and video immediately sparked outrage, both in and out of the cystic fibrosis community. Although navigating a long-distance relationship with a loved one can be difficult, many argue it is very different than the distance a person with CF must maintain between themselves and others to protect against infection and therefore should not be compared.

The influencers also asked their followers to tag their friends in the comments to help raise money for CF research, but many were upset by the way the condition was mentioned as an afterthought and not discussed in detail as the main focus of the post.

Instagram user Jennifer (@battling2breathe) shared screenshots of several of the ads after they were deleted, explaining why they were so problematic for the CF community:

View this post on Instagram

Seeing these posts infuriate me that this is how they’re “sponsoring CF”. They barely mention CF. Living in a different state from your family member and having to just do phone calls is NOTHING like two people with deadly bacteria who can get each other very sick by touching. This is being twisted out of context and it’s a shame. You can go visit your cousins, aunts, and uncles without possibly killing them. These are disrespectful and frankly I am not going to stand for anything like this. Don’t add CF at the end like your last quick thought. Actually do research on the disease and INFORM people on what CF is, not this rubbish. The analogy is so far off, the comparison is lacking. Sorry not sorry. #againstthis #stopthis #educateyourselves @annieleblanc @brookebutler @imalanstokes @missjaydenb

A post shared by Jennifer✨☀️???? (@battling2breathe) on

“Living in a different state from your family member and having to just do phone calls is NOTHING like two people with deadly bacteria who can get each other very sick by touching,” she wrote. “This is being twisted out of context and it’s a shame. You can go visit your cousins, aunts and uncles without possibly killing them. These are disrespectful and frankly I am not going to stand for anything like this. Don’t add CF at the end like your last quick thought. Actually do research on the disease and INFORM people on what CF is, not this rubbish. The analogy is so far off, the comparison is lacking. Sorry not sorry.”

Others were quick to weigh in as well. Elsie Tellier, a disabled fashion blogger with cystic fibrosis, tweeted:

Tellier also explained on her blog, 65PinkRoses, why the comparison made between long distances relationships and living with CF is problematic and hurtful:

Look, I am an international student from Canada who is currently going to school at Harvard University in the United States. I only get to see my family twice a year. I really miss them! I miss not being able to hug and be near my loved ones for months at a time, but that struggle is not comparable to the struggles I face having a terminal illness. Nothing about Cystic Fibrosis can be reduced to a metaphor. It is not relatable. You do not know what it is like to have had a terminal illness since you were born. You do not know what it is like to get sicker every day until you die or are lucky enough to receive a lung transplant. Terminal illness, and disability more generally, is not a comparable experience and to say that being terminally ill is the same thing as not being able to hug your mom every day is unquestionably ableist.

Others from the cystic fibrosis community, including advocate Gunnar Esiason, have called for an apology from director Justin Baldoni and the film’s PR team.

Nice job comparing a lifestyle CHOICE to a chronic genetic disease people are struggling to live a normal life with everyday. There are so many other aspects of cystic fibrosis you could compare to for an ad campaign. Wrong

— #Liv  ‏ (@CheerstoLiving) March 11, 2019

Though Baldoni and several cast members have previously spoken about how important it is to them to portray cystic fibrosis authentically and included CF advocates while making the film, many of those with CF believe these ads send a different message entirely.

To take back control of the narrative, “Breathe In: A CF Podcast” suggested the CF community post pictures on Instagram of what life with cystic fibrosis is really like using the hashtag #CFCommunityUnites.

The Mighty has reached out to Justin Baldoni and has yet to hear back.

Lead images via Five Feet Apart Official Twitter and battling2breathe Instagram