The recently released The Witches remake skipped theaters, , and also has landed studio Warner Bros. in hot water over criticism from the disability community. In the Robert Zemeckis-directed adaptation, Anne Hathaway’s character, known as the Grand Witch, is portrayed as having missing fingers–though many with disabilities have pointed out her hands seem to have been modeled on ectrodactyly, a rare limb condition that is commonly referred to as “split hand.”
Advocates fear that the portrayal perpetuates stereotypes and also send the message that disabilities are scary. Paralympic athlete Amy Marren, for example, took to Twitter to speak out against what she felt was a thoughtless interpretation and exaggeration of the movie’s source material: Novelist Roald Dahl’s 1983 children’s book of the same name.
Warner Bros. has heard the concerns and via a release, extended an apology: “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,” the statement reads (via ). “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.”
The original book describes these characters–the titular witches–as having square feet with no toes, blue spit, bald heads, and clawed fingers. Though, it should be noted that Dahl’s work has retroactively and repeatedly come under fire for its problematic content. In 2017, published a Q&A with the author’s widow about his struggles to portray and challenge racism as it existed in society when writing Charlie and the Chocolate Factory–an earlier draft bearing the title Charlie’s Chocolate Boy offers a deeper insight into Dahl’s intent both here and with The Witches.