‘The Witches’ star Anne Hathaway regrets pain her role caused to disability community
Anne Hathaway has apologized for negatively portraying those with limb differences while playing the Grand High Witch in Robert Zemeckis’ recent adaptation of “The Witches.”
“I am sorry,” the Oscar winner wrote in a statement posted to Instagram Thursday. “I did not connect limb difference with the GHW [Grand High Witch] when the look of the character was brought to me; if I had, I assure you this never would have happened.”
The disability community reacted to the now-streaming film with disappointment, sadness and outrage at the use of the character’s three-fingered hands to indicate evil.
“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 in her statement.
“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 [politically correct] fear, but because not hurting others seems like a basic level of decency we should all be striving for,” Hathaway wrote. “As someone who really believes in inclusivity and really, really detests cruelty, I owe you all an apology for the pain caused.”
In the 1983 children’s fantasy novel on which last month’s HBO Max remake is based, author Roald Dahl described an identifying trait of his fictional witches having “thin curvy claws, like a cat.”
In a statement to Variety Wednesday, Warner Bros. also apologized, stating, “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.”
Some in the disabled community noted that Hathaway’s character appears to have ectrodactyly, a limb difference sometimes called “split hand.” There’s concern that “The Witches,” as a family film, could contribute to stereotypes that disabilities are negative or frightening.
“I particularly want to say I’m sorry to kids with limb differences: now that I know better I promise I’ll do better,” Hathaway said in her statement. “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.”
The “Ocean’s 8" and “Les Misérables” star included (with permission) a video from the Lucky Fin Project, a nonprofit that works to raise awareness and celebrate children, individuals and families affected by limb differences.
“I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a friend,” kids and adults with limb differences say in the video. “I am whole. I am fierce. I am a partner. I am human.”
Major studios like Walt Disney are becoming increasingly interested, it seems, in the $1-billion market segment of consumers with disabilities.
“Anne Hathaway has made an apology,” the Lucky Fin Project wrote on Instagram. “This is a step in the right direction. This is a teachable moment. Let’s not strive for a ‘Cancel Culture’ but an educated, inclusive, empathetic, and empowering one. Forward together is how we all learn and rise.”
“Thank you for addressing this and for your apology,” read the top comment on Hathaway’s post, written by I Am Possible Foundation ambassador Shannon Crossland. “I do believe that it was unintentional and no upset was caused on purpose. We have been trying to raise awareness to prevent something like this occurring again — it’s great to see our voices were heard.”
The new version of “The Witches,” directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Anne Hathaway, reverses some of the changes the 1990 adaptation made to Roald Dahl’s book.
Hathaway’s and Warner Bros.’ statements followed an outcry by prominent disability rights advocates, includingBritish swimming paralympian Amy Marren.
“We the filmmakers and Warner Bros. Pictures are deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in ‘The Witches’ could upset people with disabilities, and regret any offense caused,” the studio said.
“It was never the intention for viewers to feel that the fantastical, non-human creatures were meant to represent them,” Warner Bros. said. “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.”
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