‘The Witches’ Criticised For Its Portrayal of Limb Impairments

The recently released movie, The Witches, stars Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer and Stanley Tucci and it narrates the story of a young boy who goes to live with his Grandma in rural Alabama, where they encounter ‘deceptively glamourous but thoroughly diabolical witches.’ The grandmother takes her grandson away to a seaside resort, but arrive at the same time that the High Witch does with her fellow cronies. The film is adapted from Roald Dahl’s children’s book of the same name.

The film has recently come under fire for its inconsiderate portrayal of limb differences. Anne Hathaway’s character, the High Witch has missing fingers, only having three fingers on each hand. The Witches in the film are depicted as evil and distinguishable by a number of features, particularly their three elongated fingers and toe-less feet.

Many people pointed out that the depiction of Anne Hathaway’s hands resemble the limb impairment, Ectrodactyly, sometimes known as ‘split hand’. The rare disorder often involves the lack of one or more central digits in the hand or feet. The backlash pointed out how associating limb deficiency to something that is evil, abnormal, monstrous or a ‘witch’s attribute’ is an extremely damaging portrayal, affecting the perspectives of young viewers. Tweeting Warner Bros, British Paralympic swimmer Amy Marren said that it was upsetting to see “something that makes a person different being represented as something scary”.

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The Guardian reported: ‘Embarrassingly for the studio, this could have easily been avoided. The Witches, as imagined by Dahl, do not resemble those born with ectrodactyly at all, but rather are described as having “claws instead of fingernails” and “square feet with no toes”. The best-known cover art for the book, by Quentin Blake, shows the Grand High Witch with five fingers. Clearly nobody involved meant to upset people with disabilities, but the damage is done.’

Comedian Alex Brooker, said to the BBC, ‘”What sort of message does this give? To me It sends out a message that we should be scared of people with missing fingers.’

Many others have taken to social media to speak up about the portrayal of limb deficiency in the film, sparking the hashtag #NotAWitch – where thousands of people with limb impairments are writing #NotAWitch on their bodies and posting photographs. Other organizations such as the Paralympic Games ‘Limb difference is not scary. Differences should be celebrated and disability has to be normalised.’

RespectAbility’s vice president of communications Lauren Appelbaum, said in Variety, “The decision to make this witch look scarier by having a limb difference — which was not an original part of the plot — has real life consequences. Unfortunately, this representation in ‘The Witches’ teaches kids that limb differences are hideous or something to be afraid of. What type of message does this send to children with limb differences?”

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Anne Hathaway, star of the film, wrote a personal apology on her 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,’” Hathaway posted on her Instagram page.

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.”

Warner Bros studio has also issued an apology, where a spokesperson stated that the studio was: “deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in ‘The Witches’ could upset people with disabilities. 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.”

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