Hollywood wake up will you! Stop stigmatising persons with disabilities in films as evil. Disability is not something to be scared of, it is something to be celebrated and embraced, not portrayed as something sinister. This is really poor form by @wbpictures for #Witches pic.twitter.com/s4ACNLwHhm— Craig Spence (@craigspence) November 2, 2020
Warner Bros. apologised, saying in a statement that they were “saddened” by learning they had offended people with disabilities and “regret any offence caused."
In the film, the Grand High Witch has three fingers. In real life, this limb abnormality is called Ectrodactyly, or more commonly referred to as “split hand.”
Many in the disabled community took issue with the fact that this portrayal was meant to be scary — the witches in this story are basically child-hating monsters — thus perpetuating stereotypes that disability is something to be afraid of. Craig Spence, the Chief Brand & Communications Officer for the Paralympics, tweeted his frustration that this a trope that Hollywood often feeds into. “Hollywood wake up will you! Stop stigmatising persons with disabilities in films as evil. Disability is not something to be scared of, it is something to be celebrated and embraced, not portrayed as something sinister,” he wrote.
RespectAbility, a disability advocacy group, underscored that the movie business’s failure to think critically about these issues is hurting the perception of people with disabilities.
“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,” RespectAbility’s vice president of communications Lauren Appelbaum told Variety. “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?”
In response, Warner Bros. apologised and explained that Hathaway’s character’s hands were a specific choice they made when adapting the original Roald Dahl 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.”