Anne Hathaway recently appeared in The Witches (read our review), an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book that premiered on HBO Max. In the film, the actress plays the Grand High Witch, the leader of the world’s coven of witches. When designing the character, the filmmakers decided to give the Grand High Witch three digits on each of her hands. This decision ended up causing a number of disability advocates to speak up about this depiciton.
In the aftermath of the backlash against The Witches, Anne Hathaway decided to speak up and offer her sincerest apologies to anyone that was affected by the design decision. She posted her apology to her Instagram account. You can view her post right here:
In addition to Anne Hathaway’s apology, Warner Bros. released their own statement regarding the decision. “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.” You can read the entire apology over at Deadline.
What is so interesting about the decision to give Anne Hathaway’s Grand High Witch a limb difference is that is not a design choice found in Roald Dahl’s original book. When the response to the decision began to gain steam, the illustration of “How To Recognize a Witch” that accompanies the book was often used as a point of comparison. British Paralympic swimmer Amy Marren was one of the first to speak up about the issue. You can see her statement in the tweet below:
Anne Hathaway’s portrayal of the Grand High Witch is not the first time Roald Dahl’s story has faced controversy. In fact, The Witches has found itself at the center of debate and even bans. The American Library Association has it on its 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990 to 1999. It takes a fairly high spot at number 22 on the list. The book has been criticized for perceived misogyny and even encouraging suicide in children. Not to mention that the very horrific depictions of the witches in the story has led to some parents feeling it’s too scary for young readers.
Anne Hathaway is not the first actress to portray the Grand High Witch in a cinematic adaptation of The Witches. Anjelica Huston played the role in Nicolas Roeg’s 1990 film and was not given the three-fingered claws that are present in the 2020 version of the film. Critics responded very favorably to Roeg’s adaptation and the movie has maintained a strong cult following over the decades. It is often listed as one of Anjelica Huston’s best feature roles. The recent adaptation has not been nearly as warmly embraced by critics or audiences.
The question now is whether or not the response to Anne Hathaway’s depiction will prompt any kind of change to the film or not. Will HBO Max put up some sort of disclaimer before the movie to address the feelings of those with limb differences? Or will the movie remain as is with no such warning? Obviously, there cannot be an entire change to the movie itself, but some sort of acknowledgment before the film would help assuage some of the negative feelings about the Grand High Witch’s design.
Thankfully, Anne Hathaway has recognized the issue at hand and fully embraced the situation. She has used this as an opportunity to shine a light on Lucky Fin Project, an organization that creates a support network for parents with children who have limb differences. If nothing else, it is great to see such a backlash be turned into something positive. Highlighting the normality of limb differences and how it is not something to be vilified is a great way for Hathaway to illustrate that she understands a mistake was made and that she is trying to improve her worldview.
The Witches is currently available to stream on HBO Max. Whether or not HBO or Warner Bros. decides to amend the film with some sort of acknowledgment about the criticisms brought up against it remains to be seen. Until then, we recommend you check out Lucky Fin Project and consider making a donation through their marketplace offerings.