A Warner Bros. spokesperson issued a statement to Deadline expressing the studios’ sadness that Robert Zemeckis’ “The Witches” has sparked backlash from the disability community. British Paralympic swimmer Amy Marren called out the film for its depiction of the witches, writing on Twitter, “Warner Bros, was there much thought given as to how this representation of limb differences would effect the limb difference community?”
Zemeckis reimagined Roald Dahl’s book for his 2020 release, and in doing so he changed the physicality of the villainous characters. The witches appear in Zemeckis’ film with three-fingered hands, which Deadline notes is similar to the limb abnormality ectrodactyly, otherwise known as “split hand.” The witches in Dahl’s book are described as having “claws instead of fingernails” and are shown in an illustration on the first edition cover to have all five fingers.
Disability advocate Shannon Crossland said Zemeckis’ film is “no way a reflection of the original novel written by Roald Dahl,” adding, “Is this the kind of message we want the next generation to receive? That having three fingers is a witch’s attribute? It is an extremely damaging portrayal. Disability should not be associated with evil, abnormality, disgust, fear, or monsters.
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.”
“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 spokesperson added. “It was never the intention for viewers to feel that the fantastical, non-human creatures were meant to represent them.”
The official social media account for the Paralympic Games also weighed in on the controversy, noting, “Limb difference is not scary. Differences should be celebrated and disability has to be normalized.”
“The Witches” is now streaming on HBO Max.
— Amy Marren (@amy_marren) November 2, 2020
Limb difference is not scary. Differences should be celebrated and disability has to be normalised. #NotAWitch calls out ‘#TheWitches’ movie for portrayal of disability 👉 https://t.co/aSY1U6TymE pic.twitter.com/UCU87bUeV8
— Paralympic Games (@Paralympics) November 3, 2020