Author Roald Dahl has written a lot of books that have become classic favorites in children’s libraries, but he definitely never hesitated to dive into frightening topics and descriptions. One of his most famously macabre books, The Witches, is about a little boy’s encounter with a group of real witches. His grandmother was once a witch hunter who told him to recognize the physical signs that a witch and not a woman was in front of him: she would have claws instead of fingers, square feet with no toes, blue spit, pupils that change colors, large nostrils, and be naturally bald.
The world has done a bad job grappling with ableism, and when this book was published in 1983, no one said to Dahl, “Hey, some of these things are actual human characteristics that you are aligning with evil child murderers. Why not do more blue spit stuff instead of baldness?”
But nobody did. And now a new adaptation of the book by HBO seems to have taken some of these descriptions and pushed them to an even more extreme place, leading to the hashtag #notawitch to trend on Twitter.
— Warner Bros. Pictures (@wbpictures) October 2, 2020
It’s been used by people with limb difference to explain how the way the witch’s hands are formed in the show is incredibly ableist:
The characters don’t have just claws, they seem to have more or less regular hands with only three fingers, which is something real people have all the time:
Hey @wbpictures , thanks for your attempt to convince audiences people with limb difference (LD) are evil, scary and the villain. It's not like children with LD have much against them already #notawitch pic.twitter.com/xGXFOo6vFQ
— Becky Cant (@BeckyCant) November 2, 2020
— Siren of the Hustle (@HustleGratitude) November 3, 2020
I’m so angry and upset that I can’t not say anything anymore. The new Witches film is devastating for those of us with a limb difference or anyone with a disability in fact. Here’s my post from Instagram, please take the time to give it a read: #TheWitchesMovie #NotAWitch pic.twitter.com/ogm9OJgsPk
— Briony May Williams (@brionymaybakes) November 6, 2020
The pushback online reached production company Warner Bros., who released a statement:
“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.”
It also reached the star of the coven, Anne Hathaway, who portrays the Grand High Witch. She shared a message from a little girl who is a part of the Lucky Fin Project, who provide education on limb difference, and apologized in the caption.
“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,” she wrote. “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.”
She continued, “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.” Anne Hathaway’s not a witch either!