Warner Bros. has issued a statement apologizing for its depiction of people with limb differences as witches in the studio’s new movie The Witches, which premiered on HBO Max two weeks ago.
Robert Zemeckis directed the adaptation of Roald Dahl‘s beloved 1983 children’s novel, and the film follows a young boy (Jahzir Bruno) and his grandmother (Octavia Spencer) who have a run-in with a coven of witches and their leader, played by Anne Hathaway. As seen above, the witches wear gloves to hide their hands, which are missing fingers.
Warner Bros. responded with a statement saying it “regretted any offense caused” and that the studio was “deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in The Witches could upset people with disabilities.” A representative for WB then tried to explain its thinking.
“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.”
In Dahl’s original novel, the witches are said to have “square feet with no toes” and “claws instead of fingernails”, though the cover illustration shows them as having five fingers. Clearly, someone involved in the movie, be it a writer or designer, made the creative decision to give the witches “split hands,” and someone at Warner Bros. signed off on that decision — apparently without consulting anyone in the disability community.
Hollywood has a responsibility — particularly regarding children’s movies — to celebrate our differences rather than perpetuate the stigmatization surrounding certain physical disabilities. Kids can be cruel, and I can’t imagine what children with limb differences have to endure at school each day, or how a movie like The Witches might make that even worse by demonizing them. I know it’s only a movie, but society takes its cues from pop culture, so be better, Hollywood!
Even the official Twitter account for the Paralympic Games held Warner Bros. accountable, writing that “Limb difference is not scary. Differences should be celebrated and disability has to be normalized.” I whole-heartedly agree, and that goes for conditions both seen and unseen by the naked eye. I’m still shocked by how many HIV/AIDS jokes I hear on TV shows and comedy specials. The country is divided enough, clearly, and it’s on Hollywood to lead the way when it comes to empathy.