Anne Hathaway has been forced to apologise after her latest film The Witches - a new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1983 children’s novel - sparked widespread backlash from people within the disability community.
A petition was being shared to boycott the film over the star’s depiction of the Grand High Witch. She issued a lengthy apology after learning “that many people with limb differences, especially children, are in pain”.
“Let me begin by saying I do my best to be sensitive to the feelings and experiences of others not out of some scrambling PC fear, but because not hurting others seems like a basic level of decency we should all be striving for,” she wrote.
“As someone who really believes in inclusivity and really, really detests cruelty, I owe you all an apology for the pain caused,” she continued. “I am sorry. I did not connect limb difference with the GHW when the look of the character was brought to me; if I had, I assure you this never would have happened.”
Organisations like the U.K.’s Reach Charity and the Paralympic Games have taken the film, and director Robert Zemeckis, to task for depicting the character with distinctly different hands from what Dahl had originally described on the page.
Two-time British Paralympian Amy Marren was one of the earliest voices to speak out against The Witches, in which the character is revealed to have three fingers on each hand — a condition that’s similar in appearance to ectrodactyly, or “split hand,” which is typically identified by missing central digits on the hand or foot.
In her Twitter post, Amy noted surgeons “try to build hands like this for children/adults with certain limb differences,” and criticises the film for depicting it as being “something scary.”
She also included a picture of the Grand High Witch from Dahl’s book that depicts her with five fingers. (In the novel, the witches are said to have “claws instead of fingernails.”)
Amy’s criticisms were quickly echoed by other voices within the limb difference community, with many adopting the hashtag #NotAWitch and sharing posts across social media.
A Change.org petition titled “We Are Not Monsters” has also been created, pledging to boycott the film.
The Paralympic Games account shared: “Limb difference is not scary. Differences should be celebrated and disability has to be normalised.”
Another supporter Becky Cant also posted: “Thanks for your attempt to convince audiences people with limb difference (LD) are evil, scary and the villain. It's not like children with LD have much against them already.”
The 37-year-old Oscar winner concluded by encouraging her followers to check out the Lucky Fin Project, a nonprofit organisation that exists to raise awareness and celebrate children, individuals and families affected by limb differences.
“I particularly want to say I’m sorry to kids with limb differences: now that I know better I promise I’ll do better. And I owe a special apology to everyone who loves you as fiercely as I love my own kids: I’m sorry I let your family down,” she wrote.
The Lucky Fin Project called Hathaway’s post a “teachable moment.”
“Let’s not strive for a ‘Cancel Culture’ but an educated, inclusive, empathetic, and empowering one,” the organisation wrote. “Forward together is how we all learn and rise.”
Speaking to Deadline, a Warner Bros. spokesperson attempted to elaborate on why the controversial design choice was made.
“In adapting the original story, we worked with designers and artists to come up with a new interpretation of the catlike claws that are described in the book. It was never the intention for viewers to feel that the fantastical, nonhuman creatures were meant to represent them.”
The spokesperson then stated that Warner Bros was “deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in The Witches could upset people with disabilities” and “regretted any offence caused.”
Additional reporting by Ethan Alter.
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