This week, The Witches made headlines after its lackluster debut, for the film’s portrayal of the witches themselves. Advocates and allies of the disability community started a discussion on Twitter about how the film portrays those with limb differences.
The filmmakers depict these witches in a way meant to be truly terrifying. This is particularly true of the Grand High Witch, played by Anne Hathaway. All the witches have deep, wide facial scars just like the Joker. They have bald heads covered in sores that they wear wigs to hide. The object of the controversy, however, is their supposedly claw-like hands. These “claws” consist of only three fingers, which is where the problem lies.
Some in the disability community drew similarities between the witches’ hands and a condition called ectrodactyly. Ectrodactyly, also known as split hand, is a limb difference involving a deficiency or absence of central fingers or toes. A quick Google search turns up images of the limb difference. It very closely resembles the hands of Hathaway’s character and her army of witches. The filmmakers designed these witches to be the embodiment of pure evil. This depiction of something so closely resembling ectrodactyly serves to paint those with limb differences as inherently scary or bad. This is potentially harmful, especially to children with limb differences.
In a statement posted to Instagram, Anne Hathaway apologized for any harm her portrayal of the Grand High Witch may have caused.
“I have recently learned that many people with limb differences, especially children, are in pain because of the portrayal of the Grand High Witch in The Witches,” Hathaway wrote, “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. As someone who really believes in inclusivity and really, really detests cruelty, I owe you all an apology for the pain caused. 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. 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.”
Warner Bros. also issued an apologetic statement regretting any pain the film’s depiction of witches may have caused.