Anne Hathaway has said sorry for “pain caused” by her latest film – The Witches – after a backlash over the movie’s portrayal of limb difference.

The 37-year-old actress plays The Grand High Witch in the new version of Roald Dahl’s darkly comic 1983 novel about an orphan who finds himself battling child-hating witches from around the world.

Anne Hathaway as Grand High Witch in Roald Dahl's The Witches. Pic: Warner Bros/Daniel Smith
Hathaway says she never connected the decision with limb difference. Pic: Warner Bros/Daniel Smith

Led by Forrest Gump director Robert Zemeckis, the movie characterises the witches as having three elongated fingers on each hand, rather than the clawed hands described in the book.

This has drawn comparison from moviegoers with various congenital disorders including ectrodactyly which gives the appearance of a split hand or foot due to the absence of one or more of the central digits.

Many feel the visual portrayal is insensitive towards disabled people, and the hashtag #NotAWitch began trending on social media shortly after the film’s release.

British Paralympic swimmer Amy Marren was one of those using the hashtag to voice her “disappointment and anger” with the film, saying it was “upsetting” that it was representing something that makes “someone different” as being “something scary”.

Responding to the criticism on Instagram, Hathaway said she had never connected limb difference with the stylistic decision, and shared a video from Lucky Fin Project, a non-profit organisation which champion’s limb difference.

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If you’ve been following me on Instagram stories, you will have seen me talking about the new adaption of The Witches (it’s saved to my disability highlights). In the book, the witches have no toes so they have square feet, they have claw-like hands, and they have no hair. It’s strange reading books as a child where the villains have disfigurements, a lazy marker to show the audience these people are evil. You can both love the story and see yourself as the villain. And I absolutely saw myself as the villain. In this new version, they’ve taken it a few steps further, the witches have facial scars and (I discovered today) they actually have Ectrodactyly. ? Given I now also have alopecia, I don’t think I’ve ever been more witch-like. And as much as I think witches (in other contexts) are pretty badass, I am so exhausted with this representation. I am tired. I am sad. I am extremely glad that I no longer work in a bookshop as (if we lived in non-COVID times), the coming months would be especially hellish. I feel for kids everywhere with visual differences who are going to have this film (and others like it) thrust in their faces. Enough is enough. When you see damaging tropes like this, please challenge them. Have conversations with your friends. Help us do the work. I have a playlist on disfigurement, including a video on disfigurement and villainy on my channel. Link to my YouTube channel is in my bio — the video is in the disfigurement playlist on the main page. Please share it. Thank you xx #notawitch #ectrodactyly #thewitches #disfigurement

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Hathaway wrote: “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.”

Like the book, which contains an illustration by Quentin Blake titled “How To Recognise A Witch” and shows a witch without her gloves, the 1990 version of the film starring Anjelica Huston portrayed the witches as having five fingers.

The Oscar-winner’s apology follows that of studio Warner Bros which said it was “deeply saddened” by the reaction to the movie.

In a statement the studio said: “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 offence caused.

“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.

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“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.”

The Witches, which was released on 23 October, also stars actors Octavia Spencer and Stanley Tucci and the voice of comedian Chris Rock.


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