Robert Zemeckis’s film, based on the classic Roald Dahl novel, has recently been subject to controversy after disability campaigners and Paralympians called out its exaggeration of the source material and demonising limb differences.
More specifically, Anne Hathaway’s Grand High Witch character has two fingers and a thumb on each hand, not too dissimilar to condition called ectrodactyly, with which fingers or toes are missing. It’s also known as ‘split hand’.
In a statement to Us Weekly, a Warner Bros. spokesperson said the company was ‘deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in The Witches could upset people with disabilities’, urging it ‘regretted any offense caused’ by the movie.
The statement added:
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. This film is about the power of kindness and friendship. It is our hope that families and children can enjoy the film and embrace this empowering, love-filled theme.
In the book, the titular witches are described as having ‘square feet with no toes’ and ‘claws instead of fingernails’, with Quentin Blake’s illustrations – and the original 1990 film – showing hands with five fingers, just more exaggerated.
Disability advocate Shannon Crossland condemned the film in an Instagram post, asking: ‘When you see my hands, what do you think? Do they remind you of a monstrous being? Apparently Warner Bros. thinks so.’
She added: ‘Thanks to The Witches… my hands are now associated with a witch. Used to frighten children and spark fear. Used to demonise a fictional character and make her appearance more grotesque… disability should NOT be associated with evil, abnormality, disgust, fear or monsters.’
Paralympic swimmer Amy Marren also wrote on Twitter: ‘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 it massively exaggerates the Roald Dahl original and that limb differences are to be feared.’
She added: ‘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!’
The ensuing backlash to the movie has resulted in the trending #NotAWitch hashtag, with many sharing their own limb differences and criticising the film’s portrayal.
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