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Is The Witches offensive to disabled people?

Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,086 Pioneering
edited November 5 in Coffee lounge
Disability campaigners criticise new Witches film for depicting villain with no fingers

What's the situation?

Disability campaigners have criticised the new Roald Dahl film The Witches as stigmatising those with missing limbs.
In the new version of the popular children’s book, Anna Hathaway, who plays the Grand High Witch, is depicted with missing fingers on her claw-like hands which she hides with gloves, a detail that is not part of the original text.
A trailer accompanying the film shows the star-studded cast giving a tutorial on “How to Identify Witches” and highlights claws and a lack of toes as typical characteristics of witches. 
woman with black hair holding jack o lantern

What do Scope think?

We think this situation is hugely disappointing. We know that, for many disabled people, it’s rare see themselves represented on screen.

All too often the “baddies” in dramas are depicted with an impairment. This sends a troubling message that implies that limb difference is something to be feared and hidden away.

For Scope, the film industry should be celebrating diversity and using its immense power to change negative attitudes towards disability, not reinforcing damaging stereotypes and outdated tropes.

What have others said?

Comedian and presenter Alex Brooker spoke up on the issue:
As someone with missing fingers, it’s made me so sad to see how this is portrayed as something to be scared of.

The story is that the witches wear gloves to hide what is horrible underneath. I’ve been that kid who wanted to wear gloves to hide so it’s heart-breaking to see that stigma reinforced for other children who have different hands to everyone else.

I know it’s just a film, but I want disabled kids to celebrate who they are, not feel like they have the same hands as a fictional monster.

Children’s limb difference charity Reach has said: 

Many limb difference children and young people have a significant challenging time accepting being different, overcoming mental health and physical challenges that many others take for granted and being subjected to bullying.

Roald Dahl is a much loved British author around the world. We think he would be equally as horrified about how one of his beautiful novels has been misconstrued at the cost of some very special and unique children.

Para-triathlon world champion Claire Cashmore wrote:

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

What have Warner Bros. said? 

However, Warner Bros. have come out with a statement defending their choice:

[We are] deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in The Witches could upset people with disabilities.

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 was never the intention for viewers to feel that the fantastical, non-human creatures were meant to represent them.


What do you think? Is The Witches offensive to disabled people? Have you ever been offended by the way someone has been depicted in a film or TV show? What might the consequences of negative portrayals of disability be? 

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Replies

  • leeCalleeCal Member Posts: 2,492 Disability Gamechanger
    Yes I think using the stereotypical physical difference to portray evil is definitely offensive but has been done for many many decades. That doesn’t make it right and I’d say filmmakers and story tellers should consider possible after effects of using such stereotypes. 

    Im sure that adults can handle such things but youngsters could be terribly upset by it, or at least there is that possibility.
  • janer1967janer1967 Community champion Posts: 5,144 Disability Gamechanger
    In all honesty I think this is disgusting children are so influenced by what they see in films and Warner Brothers should be taken to task for it rather than just issuing a statement
  • Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,086 Pioneering
    Good point about this being something that's been an issue for a long time @leeCal. Do you have any other examples? 

    We agree that those in the media should consider what the effect of their portrayals might be, especially on younger people. 
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  • Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,086 Pioneering
    Thank you for sharing @janer1967. What do you think the consequence for Warner Bros. should be? 
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  • janer1967janer1967 Community champion Posts: 5,144 Disability Gamechanger
    That they should be made to take the film down until they have edited it without the missing fingers and given a hefty fine and also get permission before releasing any such trash again. I am surprised their legal team didnt step in tbh

    Sorry for the rant this has hit a nerve for me
  • Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,086 Pioneering
    No need to apologise @janer1967, we're really interested in hearing everyone's views on it. 
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  • 66Mustang66Mustang Member Posts: 2,813 Disability Gamechanger
    edited November 4
    Do you have any other examples?
    I can think of one from a long time ago which is Shakespeare’s Richard III. He had a hunchback and that was used to emphasise that he was the villain with his “back of many beasts” or something - I can’t quite remember the words but I did that play in English at school and his hunchback was referenced a lot
  • leeCalleeCal Member Posts: 2,492 Disability Gamechanger
    edited November 4
    I was going to cite the hunchback of Notre Dame but though people were afraid of him he turned out to be somewhat of a hero to Esmeralda. However he was a hunchback and it was a literary device meant to have an effect. 

    Frankenstein was another called a monster and it was his looks which terrified the populace, however he too was at one point portrayed as having a soft and gentle side. 

    Ugliness has generally been associated with evil in fictional works and has played upon our innate fears of such shamefully really. 
  • 66Mustang66Mustang Member Posts: 2,813 Disability Gamechanger
    Also Davros in Doctor Who is in a kind of (futuristic) wheelchair as he can’t walk.

    There are examples of disabled people being given positive roles though. If anyone watches the TV show Vikings, Ivar the Boneless has no use of his legs but he was shown to be a great tactician and just as capable a fighter as all of the other Vikings.
  • Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,086 Pioneering
    Those are some good ones, thanks all. 

    I haven't watched Vikings @66Mustang, but it sounds good!

    That's got me thinking about another topic: incidental representations of disabled people. Jack Carroll wrote a post for Scope last year about making representations of disabled people in film incidental, rather than the focus. It's a really interesting article, and he makes the point that:
    As broader representation of all kinds of people is a relatively new phenomenon in film and television, it’s great that new perspectives are highlighted, where characters are perceived through the lens of whatever condition they have, because it raises awareness and allows people a chance at a kind of non-saccharine empathy.

    However, as representation becomes more and more common on our screens, I believe the way to truly represent disability - certainly in my experience (which is all I have to draw from) - will be to almost entirely ignore it and make it incidental, rather than a focal point.

    To show that people with disabilities are flawed beings with foibles and loves and hates and longing and angst (I’ll stop it before it gets too self-referential), just like the rest of humanity, and they just happen to have a disability.

    This opens the door (automatic, obviously) for disabled talent to shine in all manner of stories, and be granted the same responsibility for art and expression as their able-bodied counterparts.

    Does anyone have any thoughts on this? If we can agree that negative or untrue representations of disabled people are bad, then what is a good representation? Is it one that's incidental, or one that draws attention to difference?

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  • MrAllen1976MrAllen1976 Member Posts: 182 Pioneering
    Has anyone seen the 3 series (so far) of BBC 1 drama The A Word? It's all about a young lad with Autism called Joe, it's won several Awards as I recall for the lad who plays Joe's portrayal of an Autistic kid.

  • 66Mustang66Mustang Member Posts: 2,813 Disability Gamechanger
    Vikings is really good and I recommend it!  :)

    I think it is quite historically accurate. I believe Ivar the Boneless is a real Viking but that may not be correct.

    That said it is quite a graphic program showing in great detail what horrors the Vikings committed. They would go into unarmed Christian villages and churches and torture and kill everyone inside for fun.

    But it also shows how forward thinking they were as well for example everyone’s skills were put to use in the most efficient way possible in Viking culture, for example if you weren’t a great fighter you could do something else, and also, things like the fact that women were allowed to be warriors and leaders if they wanted to.
  • 66Mustang66Mustang Member Posts: 2,813 Disability Gamechanger
    Also some very cool hair styles...
  • leeCalleeCal Member Posts: 2,492 Disability Gamechanger
    @Tori_Scope said
    ‘...what is a good representation? Is it one that's incidental, or one that draws attention to difference?’
    I think it should be incidental unless it’s a storyline where the disability is a major factor.
  • kelly45kelly45 Member Posts: 13 Connected
    I had an accident and lost the top of my finger when I was 6yrs old, sadly it isn't a pretty site even now and I kept it hidden most of my life, but I understand the perspective the film is coming from as my children, when they were young and my grandchildren are freaked out by my finger and think it's scary and ugly, but as i have become older I stopped taking comments personally, these things make us unique and from all the hard times we experience throughout our lives, we grow into stronger and more caring people
  • Parrot123Parrot123 Member Posts: 122 Courageous
    @ Kelly45  You are amazing I have a burn on my face neck arms. Like you I stopped answering back. Children can be cruel 💔 but they don't understand. You take care Will x
  • Parrot123Parrot123 Member Posts: 122 Courageous
    No witches do not attend me. Will x
  • Parrot123Parrot123 Member Posts: 122 Courageous
  • Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,086 Pioneering
    Anne Hathaway, who plays the Grand High Witch, has released an apology on her Instagram:
    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.
     
    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. 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.

    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.

    If you aren’t already familiar, please check out the @Lucky_Fin_Project (video above) and the #NotAWitch hashtag to get a more inclusive and necessary perspective on limb difference.

    What do you think? 

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  • Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,086 Pioneering
    Thank you for sharing @kelly45 :)
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  • YorkshireLass01YorkshireLass01 Member Posts: 21 Courageous
    Oh for goodness sake! I'm sorry, but it's a film, it's from a work of fiction, a children's book. I don't see films and TV as real life, nor should anyone else (unless it's a documentary or biopic of course). If I settle down to watch something I have been looking forward to, I don't look for things to be offended at or that are discriminatory, I just enjoy the story. Why is everyone permanently offended these days and always looking for something to scream "Discrimination"?
    My dad had no fingers whatsoever on his right hand, he amputated them in an accident at work when I was 11, but neither I, nor my family and friends ever saw him as evil or bad. We knew the difference between a character in a book, TV programme or film and real life!
    I am certain that if Roald Dahl was alive, he would be shaking his head and laughing at the ridiculous fuss being made. Just enjoy the film for goodness sake! :o:smile:
    Where there isn't it, you can't expect it.
  • Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,086 Pioneering
    edited November 14
    I understand your point @YorkshireLass01, but I think for me it's a case of whether the depiction was necessary or properly justifiable.

    I don't think giving the witch a limb difference adds anything to the story, and when you measure that against the potential negative effects, it's not worth it in my opinion. Although you might not interpret the depiction of the witch in this way, others might do, even subconsciously, and this can perpetuate negative stereotypes that we should really be avoiding.

    I think it also indicates a wider lack of thought or consideration for disabled people by the filmmakers, so this could be a good opportunity for disabled people to make it clear that distasteful representations won't be tolerated, and that positive representations of disabled people can be really important, especially to children.

    I'd be interested to hear more on your thoughts about it though!
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  • YorkshireLass01YorkshireLass01 Member Posts: 21 Courageous
    edited November 15
    Hello @Tori_Scope , I just don't think children will take any notice of whether a character has fingers or not and they certainly wouldn't attach it to real life if they did notice. It never fails to have me shaking my head when I read outrage like this. Why take offence at everything and see things so seriously?

    She isn't a disabled person, she's a character in a film. In the original film (which scares me stupid to this day and I'm 60!) the witch Anne Hathaway portrays in this new version, transforms into a grotesque, skeletal, hairless, crone (as does Anne Hathaway looking at the stills online), and I don't think people with anorexia, alopecia, or any disfigurements took offence at it.

    For centuries witches have been portrayed as old hags, with a pointy nose, warts, long pointy, skeletal fingers, hunchback, and many other things seen as a disability, but no-one has stood up and screamed 'That's discriminatory!'  Because they have the intelligence to know what is fiction. The Hunchback of Notre Dame is another fine example, people could have pointed a finger and been offended, but they didn't.

    I really think it's high time people took a step back and allowed others to have an imagination, to enjoy entertainment just as its meant to be, and to have the intelligence to know what is real and what isn't, without pointing out whatever offends them. Yes, we can't all be the same (thank goodness) and I wouldn't want to be. I am more offended by someone using a disabled parking spot when they're not disabled nor do they have blue badges, than I am by a character in a film and that is how it should be. Stand up for real life events.
    Where there isn't it, you can't expect it.
  • GrinchyGrinchy Member Posts: 262 Pioneering
    I agree with @YorkshireLass01, i don't think the filmmakers were meaning to offend, i've worked on films with creatures in in the past, these things go through numerous designs and meetings before they settle on a final design, as an overall creation, honestly they would have thrown the missing limbs in as an afterthought, i'm not familair with the book its based on, is there no mention of missing fingers or limbs in the story?
  • YorkshireLass01YorkshireLass01 Member Posts: 21 Courageous
    @Tori_Scope and @Grinchy , I saw a report on this yesterday and it isn't that there are missing digits at all! The witch in question has elongated fingers! So all this shock and offence is totally misappropriated; My RE teacher in middle school had extra long fingers, we were all fascinated by them, but we didn't disrespect him at all.
    Yes there is a mention in the book about the witch and her fingers in the description Roald Dahl gives of her having hands like cats claws, this is why she wears gloves. According to the official Roald Dahl site this is how to spot a witch and no mention at all of  there being any digits missing. https://www.roalddahl.com/blog/2015/october/how-to-recognise-a-witch
    In the end, it is only a children's fantastical story, written by a wonderful author who has brought pleasure to millions of people, all over the world. If we adults are going to pull every single adaptation apart because it offends us (I just enjoy the films and books!), then it's a sad old world we live in. You could pull apart a lot of children's films, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with Oompa Lumpa's for instance!
    Take a breath, count to ten and think, does it really matter in the grand scheme of things, when people have much bigger problems to deal with? NO!

    Where there isn't it, you can't expect it.
  • Tori_ScopeTori_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,086 Pioneering
    edited November 17
    I've attached a picture of the Grand High Witch below @YorkshireLass01, where you can see that she does having missing digits.

    picture of anne hathaway as the grand high witch with three fingers on her hand

    And the fact that there's no mention of missing digits in the book is one of the reasons why so many people are upset I think, as the film adaptation has added this as an extra feature. 

    Do you think it being an afterthought could make it worse in some people's eyes @Grinchy
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  • Richard_ScopeRichard_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,411 Scope community team
    For me, it's the fact that the 'missing fingers' have been added and play no part on the original work. The filmmaker is deliberately using a physical difference to great a cheap reaction. @YorkshireLass01, I agree that on occasion people can be a little too sensitive about certain stories in the media but these don't even look like cat's claws. 
    We have to accept that 'some' people will see this film and weaponise it against people with differences. It is great that you and your family accepted your dad's accident. My daughter accepts my disability as she knows no different but the same cannot be said of people in society and that's the point.
    Scope
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  • MrAllen1976MrAllen1976 Member Posts: 182 Pioneering
    edited November 17
    I almost ended up with 6 fingers on my left hand instead of the normal 5, to this day I still have a skin blemish where the sixth digit would've been.

    It's a big part of the reason I don't like Salt and Vinegar crisps lol, the Salt gets in it.


  • GrinchyGrinchy Member Posts: 262 Pioneering
    Hey @Tori_Scope
    i'm sorry that people are being offended, i don't think that was the intent, just another cool thing to add to the design in there eyes, its a shame that its caused offence, i can understand that its upsetting if you have a similar impairment,
  • newbornnewborn Member Posts: 569 Pioneering
    It goes much further.   The word 'witch' should not be used.  Historically, it was an excuse to torture, drown or burn to death women who were unpopular, were isolated, were old, or were not pretty.   To this day, some cultures still use it as an excuse to torture and even kill members of their family or community who are scapegoats or atypical in some way.   There's a link in fairy tales between physical beauty and inner virtue, versus any disfigurement, or even old age, with inner ugliness.  The perpetuation of these stories, and the word 'witch', is encouragement of hatred to women, hatred to old women, hatred to disabled or disfigured or merely non-pretty people.    If these fairy stories used skin colour as an outer proof of inner evil, it would be obvious to everyone it was always wrong, and must be stopped at once.
  • MrAllen1976MrAllen1976 Member Posts: 182 Pioneering
    newborn said:
    It goes much further.   The word 'witch' should not be used.  Historically, it was an excuse to torture, drown or burn to death women who were unpopular, were isolated, were old, or were not pretty.   To this day, some cultures still use it as an excuse to torture and even kill members of their family or community who are scapegoats or atypical in some way.   There's a link in fairy tales between physical beauty and inner virtue, versus any disfigurement, or even old age, with inner ugliness.  The perpetuation of these stories, and the word 'witch', is encouragement of hatred to women, hatred to old women, hatred to disabled or disfigured or merely non-pretty people.    If these fairy stories used skin colour as an outer proof of inner evil, it would be obvious to everyone it was always wrong, and must be stopped at once.
    That's a pretty outdated opinion mate, used by Daily Mail reading racists who hate the world and everyone in it who doesn't conform to their version of what's "normal"

    Not suggesting you're of that persuasion though.

  • Richard_ScopeRichard_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,411 Scope community team
    I have several friends who are proud to be called 'Witch'.
    Scope
    Specialist Information Officer - Cerebral Palsy

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  • newbornnewborn Member Posts: 569 Pioneering
    Richard that is funny, a great way to turn an insult away!  But for cultures where ia belief in the existence of evil witches (including childrent)   the word is actually causing harm, the acceptance that there is such a thing as witches and they are evil is really not something funny at all.    It is like accepting that little girls must have the equivalent , essentially, of castration mutilation. by using the mild  term 'female circumcision'.  The campaigners  battled hard to reject the use of the word, as a first step to reject the practice  
  • Richard_ScopeRichard_Scope Administrator Posts: 2,411 Scope community team
    I wasn't making a joke @newborn.
    Scope
    Specialist Information Officer - Cerebral Palsy

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  • newbornnewborn Member Posts: 569 Pioneering
    Oh no, separating the two things.  Your friends who say "yep, I'm a witch and proud of it" are being funny and being empowered and 'reclaiming' and so on, which is all good stuff.    Originally, this started I think with people happy to call themselves 'white witches', to show they were not doing what used to be called 'black magic' (not the confectionary, but making 'spells' against people, and so the 'white witches' would only do 'spells' to help people.  This would probably have started about the time of the Hippies movement.

    ., People who are not your friends use the word in a way which is completely different.

     I actually shared a house in London with a lovely African doctor, working as a minicab driver, but who worried a lot about his ex wife, in another part of London with their children.   His concern was exactly that, her belief in witches.  There wasn't much he could do to protect one of them.  Her church leader was keen to do various rituals because they had declared the child was a witch, or a witch who needed the 'devil' to be forced out of her body, or something.  The father worried that the ceremonies were  frightening the child, branding her as evil, witch, devil-possessed, liable to be dangerous to all around her because she might curse them or put spells on them or kill them with her witch-stare, which is a lot of responsibility for a six year old.

    That little girl would not find the fairy stories and films a pleasant entertainment.
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