Warner Bros. issues an apology to members of the disability community for its portrayal of limb differences in the remake of Roald Dahl’s The Witches.
Warner Bros regrets offending the disability community with The Witches remake. Roald Dahl’s classic 1983 children’s horror novel follows an unnamed narrator and his grandmother as they take on a society of evil Witches led by the powerful Grand High Witch, who plans to turn all of England’s children into mice to be exterminated. The book was first adapted in the 1990 live-action film by Nicolas Roeg, which is widely regarded as one of the scariest children’s movies ever made. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the 2020 remake takes on an all-new setting and time period from its predecessor and original source material.
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Zemeckis’ The Witches stars Anne Hathaway as the Grand High Witch who gathers her fellow witches from around the world to carry out her evil plans At the same time, a young boy (Jahzir Kadeem Bruno) and his grandma (Octavia Spencer) from a rural Alabama town in 1967 must save the day. Zemeckis chose to add a sociological element to the story by placing it during the Jim Crow era, rather than 1980s England. Another element Zemeckis reimagined for his remake was the physicality of the witches. The witches appear with three-fingered hands, unlike the witches in the novel, who are described as having “claws instead of fingernails,” with all five fingers on their hands. The film received backlash from members of the disability community and disability advocates, who pointed out the witches’ hands resemble the limb abnormality ectrodactyly, or “split hand,” which is offensive to those with physical impairments.
In response to the criticisms, a Warner Bros. spokesperson told Deadline the studio 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.” The spokesperson went on to say, “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.”
Among those criticizing the film was British Paralympic swimmer Amy Marren, who called out Warner Bros. on Twitter, writing, “[Warner Bros] was there much thought given as to how this representation of limb differences would effect the limb difference community?” In an Instagram post, disability advocate Shannon Crossland pointed out that the witches’ appearances did not reflect the original novel, and called the witches’ deformation “an extremely damaging portrayal. Disability should NOT be associated with evil, abnormality, disgust, fear or monsters.” Most recently, the official Twitter account for Paralympic Games also spoke out by writing, “Limb difference is not scary. Differences should be celebrated and disability has to be normalized.”
It’s unlikely that Warner Bros. or Zemeckis intended for the witches’ looks to cause any harm. Still, they clearly missed the mark, and it’s unfortunate that members of the disability community were offended by the film. The film’s portrayal of the witches is not the only negative feedback it was given, as The Witches received only average reviews. However, Hathaway’s performance and the stunning visual effects are still likely to attract viewers to watch the film on HBO Max.
More: The Witches: How The 2020 Remake Compares To The Book & 1990 Movie
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