Roald Dahl’s The Witches remake blasted for ‘shocking’ portrayal of disability

Claire Maggie Dowens looks at the failures of "The Witches" remake, and why it shouldn't be on your to-watch list.

Claire Maggie Dowens
15th November 2020
Growing up as a child, Roald Dahl’s dark fantasy The Witches, was one of my most treasured and favourite stories.

The screen adaptation which was released in 1991 staring Anjelica Houston (Adams Family), vividly brought to life the spine-chilling world of child-hating, murderous witches disguised as harmless women in a PG friendly terrorising form. Having experienced the thrill of both the book and film, I was delighted when Warner Brothers Studios announced that they would be producing a fresh remake to bewitch and stun a whole new generation of viewers; My hunger for Dahl’s harmless horror could once again be relived . . . or so I thought. 

The remake obliterated the magic of Dahl’s storytelling by reducing the film to a pathetic panto like spectacle

Never in my worst nightmares could I have imagined a remake under the direction of Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Back to the Future), which not only obliterated the magic of Dahl’s storytelling by reducing the film to a pathetic panto-like spectacle but also depicted the evil witches’ physicality in a controversial, three-fingered hand fashion, which has sparked audience outrage.

Image Credit: IMDb

This depiction is a significant divergence from the classic tale in which the witches are described as having “claws instead of fingernails” along with illustrations on the covers of countless different editions of the novel, showing them with all five fingers.

Exacerbating the situation is the characterisation of the villainous Grand High Witch played by Anne Hathaway, whose missing fingers are concealed by gloves which are removed in the midst of the film to terrorise and threaten children.

The children’s limb difference charity ‘Reach’ has heavily criticised the film, asserting that it has the potential to be “extremely damaging” and “destroy years of changing public perception of disability.” Elaborating further, they stated; “Roald Dahl is a much-loved British author around the world and we speak on behalf of our members that we think he would be equally as horrified on how one of his beautiful novels has been misconstrued at the cost of some very special and unique children.” 

Paralympic Swimming Champion Claire Cashmore is an ambassador for the charity who has voiced her own opinions regarding the movie’s underlying capacity to encourage disability discrimination; "It feels like we've spiralled back into the dark ages where people with a disability are seen as weird, freaky and scary. We want disabilities to be normalised and be represented in a positive light rather than [be] associated with being a scary, evil witch.” 

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

Since the release of the film last month, many more celebrities have spoken out alongside hundreds of people with limb differences who have established the #NotAWitch movement by sharing photographs of themselves across different social media platforms. One tweeted “Enough children stare and are scared of me because of my scars and hand without the new #TheWitchesMovie portraying disabilities to be scary too… it’s 2020!! So much for equality. SHAME.”

In a recent statement, a spokesperson for Warner Bros said the studio was “deeply saddened to learn that [their] depiction of the fictional characters in The Witches could upset people with disabilities, and regret any offence caused.” Anne Hathaway has also offered her sincere and heartfelt apologies to the disability community for what she describes as “the pain caused” to people with limb differences. Expanding further, she asserted that she was “someone who really believes in inclusivity and really, really, detests cruelty” and had she associated the disability with the portrayal of her character from the onset, she’d have assured that the upset inflicted upon viewers “never would have happened.”

Conversation surrounding these apologies continues to be discussed amongst the public and the ectrodactyly community with the general consensus being that the studio should ensure positive onscreen representation in the future.

I would strongly discourage anyone from watching it in order to make a small contribution towards rendering it as a forgettable flop.

Personally, in solidarity with those who have been and continue to be deeply affected by this film, I would strongly discourage anyone from watching it in order to make a small contribution towards rendering it as a forgettable flop. Whilst it is clear that Warner Bros never meant to cause any intentional offence or upset to those with disabilities, the damage has sadly been done.

Image Credit: IMDb

It certainly is a shame for both Oscar winning actress Octavia Spencer (The Help, 2011) and promising newcomer Jahzir Kadeem Bruno, who come together to deliver heart-warming performances as the film’s protagonists. Ultimately, Hollywood has once again exposed how horribly out of touch it is beyond the glitz and glamour of its opulent surroundings. #NotAWitch!

Feature image credit: IMDb

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