Viewers were quick to point out a new characteristic introduced in the Robert Zemeckis adaptation, where Hathaway’s villainous character, known as the Grand Witch, has missing fingers, resembling Ectrodactyly—a limb abnormality commonly referred to as 'split hand'.
Neither the 1983 book by Roald Dahl nor the 1990 original film by Nicolas Roeg portray the character with this feature, leading many to criticise the unnecessary addition.
Referring to people whose limbs are different to those of others, due to developmental issues in the womb or acquired as a result of an accident or disease, 'limb difference' is not something to be scared of.
The public concern lies in the fear that portraying 'villains' and characters intended to frighten with physical defects can perpetuate stereotypes that disabilities are abnormal or scary.
Many viewers clapped back at Warner Bros. for being out-of-touch and even started the hashtag #NotAWitch to promote body positivity amongst limb different people.
Paralympic athlete Amy Marren got involved, saying she was “disappointed” in Warner Bros. and questioned if there “was there much thought given as to how this representation of limb differences would effect the limb difference community.”
The official Twitter account for the Paralympic Games echoed Marren’s comments, writing: “Limb difference is not scary. Differences should be celebrated and disability has to be normalised.”
Continuing, Marren pointed out that the film being targeted at children is exactly the issue.
“Yes, I am fully aware that this is a film, and these are Witches. But Witches are essentially monsters,” she wrote. “My fear is that children will watch this film, unaware that it massively exaggerates the Roald Dahl original and that limbs differences begin to be feared.”
A spokesperson for Warner Bros. said the studio was “deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in The Witches could upset people with disabilities.”
“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.
“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.”
Played by Anjelica Huston in 1990, the original Grand Witch wore a skin-suit to cover her true form—which is still seared into our brains to this day.
Premiering on HBO Max in October 2020, The Witches still tells the same story of a young boy who happens upon a gathering of witches while visiting a hotel with his grandmother. After discovering their plan to turn all children into mice, he teams up with his grandmother to thwart their wicked scheme.
Along with Hathaway, the cast includes Jahzir Kadeem Bruno, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci, Chris Rock and Kristin Chenoweth.