Warner Bros's latest adaptation of Roald Dahl's novel The Witches is drawing backlash from members of the disability community over its depiction of Anne Hathaway's character, Grand High Witch. In the film, which premiered on HBO Max in late October, Hathaway's character is shown with hands that are similar to the limb abnormality ectrodactyly, a condition in which there is an absence of one or more fingers or toes on the hand or foot. For many, how the film chose to depict the witches' "claws" is offensive to those with limb differences, leading to a swift backlash on social media.
Among the first to call the film out was British Paralympic swimmer Amy Marren, who wrote on social media that she was "disappointed" in the film. The athlete noted that "it's not unusual for surgeons to try and build hands like this for children/adults with certain limb differences and it's upsetting to something that makes a person different being represented as something scary." While she acknowledged that "this is a film, and these are Witches," she said that "Witches are essentially monsters" and expressed her "fear" that children "will watch this film, unaware that it massively exaggerates the Roald Dahl original and that limbs differences begin to be feared."
Disability advocate Shannon Crossland, in an Instagram post, expressed similar concerns, writing that the imagery in the film was "no way a reflection of the original novel written by Roald Dahl," according to Deadline. Crossland questioned, "is this the kind of message we want the next generation to receive. That having three fingers is a witch’s attribute?" and said the film's portrayal is "extremely damaging," adding that "disability should NOT be associated with evil, abnormality, disgust, fear or monsters."
The backlash prompted Warner Bros. to issue an apology, with a spokesperson stating in a statement to Us Weekly that the company was "deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in The Witches could upset people with disabilities." The company added that it "regretted any offense caused" by the film, explaining that "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," the statement added. "It is our hope that families and children can enjoy the film and embrace this empowering, love-filled theme."