Disability community slams Roald Dahl's The Witches remake over depiction of physical impairments

Anne Hathaway in The Witches.
Anne Hathaway in The Witches. Photo credit: Warner Brothers

Members of the disability community, including Paralympians and the Paralympic Games organisation, have criticised the remake of a new Roald Dahl movie over its physical depiction of a character.

The Witches, which was released in October, shows actress Anne Hathaway's villainous character with missing fingers. Many people with disabilities pointed out that she appears to have Ectrodactyly, a limb abnormality that's typified by the absence of certain fingers and toes.

UK Paralympic swimmer Amy Marren called out Warner Brothers for releasing a movie with this "upsetting" imagery.

"It's not unusual for surgeons to try and build hands like this for children/adults with certain limb differences and it's upsetting to [see] something that makes a person different being represented as something scary," she said in a statement shared on Twitter.

"Yes, I am fully aware that this is a film, and these are witches. But witches are essentially monsters. My fear is that children will watch this film, unaware that it massively exaggerates the Roald Dahl original and that limb differences begin to be feared."

Paralympic triathlete Claire Cashmore said she was "very confused and upset" by the apparent depiction of Ectrodactyly.

"We want disabilities to be normalised and be represented in a positive light rather than being associated with being a scary, evil witch," she said on Instagram.

"I really don't believe that Warner Brothers would have wanted to upset or cause offence but I think maybe a few more discussions should have been had."

The official Paralympic Games Twitter account said: "limb difference is not scary." 

"Differences should be celebrated and disability has to be normalised."

Warner Brothers told Deadline it was "deeply saddened" the depiction of the characters in The Witches could upset people with disabilities and it "regretted any offence 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," it said.

"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."

In Dahl's 1983 book, he describes the witches as having "square feet with no toes" and "claws instead of fingers".

According to the US' National Organization for Rare Disorders, Ectrodactyly is present when someone is born and occurs in approximately one out of every 90,000-100,000 worldwide births.