Anna Hathaway, who stars in Warner Bros. Pictures’ The Witches, issued an apology to the disability community for the film’s depiction of the eponymous conjurers having physically impaired hands.
Campaigners like Paralympians and the Paralympic Games organization slammed the film, saying the characters having limb differences was offensive.
In the 1983 novel written by Roald Dahl on which the movie is based, the witches are described as having “square feet with no toes” and “claws instead of fingernails.”
However, in the new film adaptation, Hathaway’s Grand High Witch character is revealed to have ectrodactyly, also known as “split hand”—a congenital disorder involving the deficiency or absence of one or more digits on the hand or foot.
According to Deadline, British Paralympic swimmer Amy Marren was the first to call out the film studio for their insensitivity and lack of foresight.
— Amy Marren (@amy_marren) November 2, 2020
Marren tagged @reachcharity1—a UK organization devoted to helping children with upper limb differences—to the accompanying quote, which read:
“Disappointed in the new Warner Bros film The Witches…I myself am a huge advocate of celebrating differences and especially limb differences.”
“It’s not unusual for surgeons to try and build hands like this for children/adults with certain limb differences and it’s upsetting to something that makes a person different being represented as something scary.”
“Yes, I am fully aware that this is a film, and these are Witches. But Witches are essentially monsters.”
“My fear is that children will watch this film, unaware that is massively exaggerates the Roald Dahl original and that limbs differences begin to be feared.”
“This opens up all new difficult conversations for those with limb differences and sets back what we are trying to achieve which is to celebrate who you are!”
To demonstrate the studio took conceptual liberties for the film, Marren also included an illustration from the book that depicted the witch having five fingers with claws.
Disability advocate Shannon Crossland expressed her frustration and asserted the film was “no way a reflection of the original novel written by Roald Dahl.”
“Is this the kind of message we want the next generation to receive? That having three fingers is a witch’s attribute?”
“It is an extremely damaging portrayal.”
“Disability should NOT be associated with evil, abnormality, disgust, fear or monsters.”
Actress and disability advocate Melissa Johns tweeted:
“Why missing fingers??”
“Here we go again… Using disability as a costume and to highlight a character as a ‘baddie’.”
“Children with limb differences rarely get to see themselves represented truthfully. But instead get shown as scary monsters?”
“Not what we need.”
Why missing fingers??
Here we go again…
Using disability as a costume and to highlight a character as a “baddie”.
Children with limb differences rarely get to see themselves represented truthfully. But instead get shown as scary monsters?
— Melissa Johns (@Melissa_Clare_J) November 2, 2020
Soon, the hashtag #notawitch began trending and others with limb differences vented their frustrations and called for Hollywood to do better.
It infuriates and saddens me greatly that film makers think this it is ok to use and portray an upper limb difference as something that you should be fearful of. This was not written in the @roald_dahl books! #differentlyable #limbdifference @ReachCharity @alex_brooker 😢😡 https://t.co/2BHFjDnp4o
— Suzanne Willis (@snoozyj) November 2, 2020
Hey #annehathaway @warnerbros @wbpictures #thewitches @zemeckis_robert @WitchesMovie
Kinda curious..what exactly is scary about my hand? What effect do you think this'd have on a kid with a hand like mine?
And do you think it's okay?#misrepresentation #LimbDifferenceAwareness pic.twitter.com/ldUdQAMyGt
— Colm Creamer (@cgscreamer) November 2, 2020
Hey @warnerbros – missing fingers doesn’t make someone bad or equate evil. Lazy stereotyping on your part. It’s hard enough challenging assumptions and stereotypes about disability without major film companies perpetuating nonsense. PLEASE DO BETTER #NotAWitch #WarnerBros pic.twitter.com/0yAJNXtdWO
— Dr Amanda Bates (@Red_Fringe) November 3, 2020
— Clara (@claratheOT) November 3, 2020
I am not evil, a disability trope that has been perpetuated by @wbpictures in “The Witches” movie. I was born with upper limb difference. My hand looks similar to how Anne Hathaway’s is made up to look in the movie. My condition is called Symbrachydactyly. #DisabilityTwitter pic.twitter.com/4rCEoqYYnm
— Elizabeth Wright | FRSA & TEDx Speaker 🎤🦿🦾💜 (@esioul) November 3, 2020
Whilst this depiction was not meant to offend, it is a classic example of the type of unconscious biases and carelessness that occurs in a creative environment that is lacking the insight and benefits of true diversity and representation.#NotAWitch #LimbDifferent #Witches pic.twitter.com/IjHd0UsNnS
— JJ Chalmers (@JJChalmersRM) November 6, 2020
On Instagram, Hathaway responded to the backlash by sharing a clip from @Lucky_Fin_Project—a non-profit organization that raises awareness of children, individuals and family members affected by limb differences.
She wrote in the caption:
“I have recently learned that many people with limb differences, especially children, are in pain because of the portrayal of the Grand High Witch in The Witches.”
View this post on Instagram
I have recently learned that many people with limb differences, especially children, are in pain because of the portrayal of the Grand High Witch in The Witches. Let me begin by saying I do my best to be sensitive to the feelings and experiences of others not out of some scrambling PC fear, but because not hurting others seems like a basic level of decency we should all be striving for. As someone who really believes in inclusivity and really, really detests cruelty, I owe you all an apology for the pain caused. I am sorry. I did not connect limb difference with the GHW when the look of the character was brought to me; if I had, I assure you this never would have happened. I particularly want to say I’m sorry to kids with limb differences: now that I know better I promise I’ll do better. And I owe a special apology to everyone who loves you as fiercely as I love my own kids: I’m sorry I let your family down. If you aren’t already familiar, please check out the @Lucky_Fin_Project (video above) and the #NotAWitch hashtag to get a more inclusive and necessary perspective on limb difference.
The actress explained:
“Let me begin by saying I do my best to be sensitive to the feelings and experiences of others not out of some scrambling PC fear, but because not hurting others seems like a basic level of decency we should all be striving for.”
“As someone who really believes in inclusivity and really, really detests cruelty, I owe you all an apology for the pain caused. I am sorry.”
“I did not connect limb difference with the GHW when the look of the character was brought to me; if I had, I assure you this never would have happened.”
The mother of two continued by pledging to “do better” in the future.
“I particularly want to say I’m sorry to kids with limb differences: now that I know better I promise I’ll do better.”
“And I owe a special apology to everyone who loves you as fiercely as I love my own kids: I’m sorry I let your family down.”
Her apology was largely accepted by the disability community.
Warner Bros’ also responded to the controversy by issuing a statement that read in part:
“We the filmmakers and Warner Bros. Pictures are deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in ‘The Witches’ could upset people with disabilities and regret any offense caused.”
“In adapting the original story, we worked with designers and artists to come up with a new interpretation of the cat-like claws that are described in the book.”
“It was never the intention for viewers to feel that the fantastical, non-human creatures were meant to represent them.”
The Witches was directed by Robert Zemeckis and was made available on HBO Max on October 22, 2020.
The dark fantasy film is the second adaptation. The Nicolas Roeg-directed version in 1990 starred Anjelica Huston as the Grand High Witch.