Robert Zemeckis’s new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1983 children’s novel The Witches has been earning mixed reviews since its Oct. 22 premiere on HBO Max. Among the disability community, though, the movie has been widely panned. Organizations like the U.K.’s Reach Charity and the Paralympic Games have taken the film to task for depicting Anne Hathaway’s Grand High Witch as having distinctly different hands from what Dahl described on the page.
In a statement provided to Deadline, a Warner Bros. spokesperson stated that it was “deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in The Witches could upset people with disabilities” and “regretted any offense caused.”
Two-time British Paralympian Amy Marren was one of the earliest voices to speak out against The Witches, in which Hathaway’s character is revealed to have three fingers on each hand — a condition that’s similar in appearance to ectrodactyly, or “split hand,” which is typically identified by missing central digits on the hand or foot.
In her Twitter post, Marren noted that surgeons “try to build hands like this for children/adults with certain limb differences,” and criticizes the film for depicting it as being “something scary.” She also included a picture of the Grand High Witch from Dahl’s book that depicts her with five fingers. (In the novel, the witches are said to have “claws instead of fingernails.”)
— Amy Marren (@amy_marren) November 2, 2020
Marren’s criticisms were quickly echoed by other voices within the limb difference community, many adopting the hashtag #NotAWitch. A Change.org petition titled “We Are Not Monsters” has also been created, pledging to boycott Zemeckis’s film.
Limb difference is not scary. Differences should be celebrated and disability has to be normalised. #NotAWitch calls out ‘#TheWitches’ movie for portrayal of disability 👉 https://t.co/aSY1U6TymE pic.twitter.com/UCU87bUeV8
— Paralympic Games (@Paralympics) November 3, 2020
Hey @wbpictures , thanks for your attempt to convince audiences people with limb difference (LD) are evil, scary and the villain. It's not like children with LD have much against them already #notawitch pic.twitter.com/xGXFOo6vFQ
— Becky Cant (@BeckyCant) November 2, 2020
— Lucky Fin Project (@luckyfinproject) 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
We stand united with our ambassadors @CatrinPugh and @Red_Fringe – using scars and limb difference to portray a scary character in the latest adaptation of The Witches is lazy and damaging stereotyping. The film industry can do better. @WarnerBrosUK we’d love to talk! #NotAWitch pic.twitter.com/7VCG1Z1IMH
— Changing Faces (@FaceEquality) November 4, 2020
Speaking to Deadline, a Warner Bros. spokesperson attempted to elaborate on why the controversial design choice was made. “In adapting the original story, we worked with designers and artists to come up with a new interpretation of the catlike claws that are described in the book. It was never the intention for viewers to feel that the fantastical, nonhuman creatures were meant to represent them.”
Neither Hathaway nor Zemeckis has responded to the backlash as of yet.
The Witches is currently streaming on HBO Max.
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