The film identifies witches — led by Anne Hathaway — by a number of features in a promo video titled "How to Spot a Witch." One of those features is described as having "claws" instead of hands, depicted in the film as having two fingers and a thumb. In real life, this congenital condition is commonly known as ectrodactyly or "split hand."
The Paralympic Games organization has been vocal among the critics of the film, pointing out that Dahl's depiction of witches never included limb difference as one of their identifying features. In a tweet, the organization argued that "limb difference is not scary" and that these differences should be normalized and celebrated.
Meanwhile, dozens of disabled people have also spoken out against the film on social media, sharing photos of their condition and pushing the hashtag #NotAWitch.
In response to these accusations, Warner Bros explained that the company was "deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in The Witches could upset people with disabilities," in a statement to Deadline, adding that it "regretted 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," Warner Bros. stated. "It was never the intention for viewers to feel that the fantastical, non-human creatures were meant to represent them."
In addition to the "cat-like claws," characters in the movie are also shown as bald and without toes, among other features. See the offending depiction below, as well as some reactions from the disability community.
Limb difference is not scary. Differences should be celebrated and disability has to be normalised. #NotAWitch calls out '#TheWitches' movie for portrayal of disability 👉 https://t.co/aSY1U6TymE pic.twitter.com/UCU87bUeV8— Paralympic Games (@Paralympics) November 3, 2020
As a mother to a young child with a hand difference & board trustee for @ReachCharity I am deeply saddened by the depiction & subsequent stigma of upper limb difference that will be reinforced by @wbpictures new release #TheWitches this was not how #roalddahl defined it 😔 pic.twitter.com/rirZJv9WZj— Alice Gair (@Chikipepr) November 1, 2020
I am not evil, a disability trope that has been perpetuated by @wbpictures in "The Witches" movie. I was born with upper limb difference. My hand looks similar to how Anne Hathaway's is made up to look in the movie. My condition is called Symbrachydactyly. #DisabilityTwitter pic.twitter.com/4rCEoqYYnm— Elizabeth Wright | FRSA & TEDx Speaker 🎤🦿🦾💜 (@esioul) November 3, 2020