Anne Hathaway’s character features a particular deformity.
If you’ve never seen the original version of Roald Dahl’s The Witches, first of all, don’t watch it with your kids. You will more than likely scar them for life like so many children of the 90s. Secondly, the main antagonist of the film, the Grand High Witch, is portrayed as a vile old hag beneath her human disguise, with blotchy skin, a pointy ears and nose, and just a general appearance of something completely inhuman. Her new portrayal by Anne Hathaway in the recently released Warner Bros. remake carries over most of these features, though with an additional distinction that has some folks concerned.
In the remake, the character of the Grand High Witch has a notable physical absence: she only has three fingers on each hand. While this was likely a choice on the production company’s part to make her seem more inhuman, missing fingers is an actual physical condition known as ectrodactyly, also known as “split hand.” Because this is a real condition that real people have to deal with, many viewers of the film have expressed concern that children who see it will assume those with missing fingers are monsters, which can lead to discrimination.
British Paralympic swimmer Amy Marren, who herself deals with a physical condition in her hands, has been one of the most outspoken critics of this decision. On her Twitter, she said that “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.
“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. This opens up all new difficult conversations for those with limb differences and sets back what we are trying to achieve which is to celebrate who you are!”
— Amy Marren (@amy_marren) November 2, 2020
In response, Warner Bros. released an official statement to Us Weekly apologizing for the choice. “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 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. It is our hope that families and children can enjoy the film and embrace this empowering, love-filled theme.”