I am a double Paralympian, now turned a third-year Solicitor Apprentice who was born with a missing right hand at the level of the wrist. Most recently I have been advocating for limb difference awareness through various social media platforms (most often Twitter and Instagram). Because of my limb difference, I felt it essential that I voice my opinion on the new movie adaptation of Roald Dahl’s novel ‘The Witches’. I unknowingly started a very large conversation across the world and the movie has since been criticised by disability advocates for its insensitivity towards people with limb differences. The movie showcases actor Anne Hathaway with disfigured limbs as she played her character the Grand High Witch.
The Paralympic Movement, social media and TV campaigns have also been instrumental in changing the world’s perceptions of those with disabilities. To give you some figures, 15 per cent of the world’s population are disabled, yet only 2.5 per cent of people with disabilities reach our screens in the form of sport, TV and film. By all logic, and as a community, we should be delighted to see limb differences highlighted in films such as The Witches.
However, what we did not anticipate is for limb differences to be associated with Warner Bros portrayal of a Witch ie, a scary, frightening creature. Representation is something that we are constantly fighting for and although it is promising to see a limb difference made so noticeable in a film, the approach and connotations are potentially wrong and hurtful. Following the release of The Witches, I started to see the distress become more apparent among the limb difference community and although I myself am not easily offended by the scenes, I am concerned for the next generation of young adults and children with limb differences.
On the one hand, I am fully aware that this is a fictional film that aims to share a story of hope and kindness which I am in full support of. However, I am not necessarily sure that people are aware of the fact that the 2020 release has deviated so far from the Roald Dahl original which identified Witches as those with claws on the tips of their fingers. What we see in the 2020 film is very different from the original and to the limb difference community, it was an unnecessary and significant change.
There are many people out there, athletes being some of them, that act as advocates for limb differences. Many of these same people have overcome their own fears in order to finally feel accepted in a world that already defines you by your difference. These people have their own horror stories of being different and face comments every and I do understand that not everybody is able to relate to how much these comments can affect people. However, what I would like people to try to educate themselves about limb differences and how this film could now mean that those within the limb difference community now face a new wave of unsettling comments that compare us to Witches!
Warner Bros were very quick to respond with an apology saying the studio was "deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in The Witches could upset people with disabilities.". Not long after this, Anne Hathaway also published a very public apology. Anne’s apology was extremely open and heartfelt and reiterated that she said she does her best to be sensitive to the experiences of others not out of “PC fear” but because not hurting people is a basic level of decency. Anne also added "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." It is therefore encouraging to see celebrities like Anne stepping up to embrace limb differences and engaging in the conversation! I hope that because of Anne’s step forwards towards raising awareness of limb differences, that this can open up much more casual conversations about limb differences and the wider community and also allow people to educate themselves.
Finally, I am in no way saying “Let’s boycott the film!”. Instead, I am saying by all means, do watch and enjoy this film but please, please make sure that if you choose to watch it, also choose to make the conscious effort to have an open conversation about limb differences and let it be known that it is more than ok to be different from everyone else! Let’s all keep moving forwards, keep educating and continue to embrace each other’s differences!
Written by Amy Marren