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Is The Witches offensive to disabled people?

Tori_Scope
Tori_Scope Posts: 8,262

Scope community team

edited November 2020 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and using its immense power to change negative attitudes towards disability, not reinforcing damaging stereotypes and outdated tropes.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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Comments

  • leeCal
    leeCal Member Posts: 5,241 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.

    “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”


    ― Dalai Lama XIV
  • janer1967
    janer1967 Member Posts: 15,244 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_Scope
    Tori_Scope Posts: 8,262

    Scope community team

    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_Scope
    Tori_Scope Posts: 8,262

    Scope community team

    Thank you for sharing @janer1967. What do you think the consequence for Warner Bros. should be? 
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  • janer1967
    janer1967 Member Posts: 15,244 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_Scope
    Tori_Scope Posts: 8,262

    Scope community team

    No need to apologise @janer1967, we're really interested in hearing everyone's views on it. 
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  • 66Mustang
    66Mustang Community Co-Production Group Posts: 6,587 Disability Gamechanger
    edited November 2020
    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
  • leeCal
    leeCal Member Posts: 5,241 Disability Gamechanger
    edited November 2020
    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. 

    “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”


    ― Dalai Lama XIV
  • 66Mustang
    66Mustang Community Co-Production Group Posts: 6,587 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_Scope
    Tori_Scope Posts: 8,262

    Scope community team

    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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  • [Deleted User]
    [Deleted User] Posts: 1,651 Connected
    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.

  • 66Mustang
    66Mustang Community Co-Production Group Posts: 6,587 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.
  • 66Mustang
    66Mustang Community Co-Production Group Posts: 6,587 Disability Gamechanger
    Also some very cool hair styles...
  • leeCal
    leeCal Member Posts: 5,241 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.

    “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”


    ― Dalai Lama XIV
  • kelly45
    kelly45 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
  • Parrot123
    Parrot123 Member Posts: 137 Pioneering
    @ 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
  • Parrot123
    Parrot123 Member Posts: 137 Pioneering
    No witches do not attend me. Will x
  • Parrot123
    Parrot123 Member Posts: 137 Pioneering
  • Tori_Scope
    Tori_Scope Posts: 8,262

    Scope community team

    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_Scope
    Tori_Scope Posts: 8,262

    Scope community team

    Thank you for sharing @kelly45 :)
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