Witch offense?

“Everyone is offended by everything”

Is usually what people who are easily offended say.

The new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’ has started a bit of a twitter storm. The film, featuring actress Anne Hathaway portrays the evil witches with distinct physical features that were not part of the original. Many have raised concerns that the film could further the stigma around disability.   

#NotAWitch calls out ‘#TheWitches’ movie for portrayal of disability 👉

Originally tweeted by Paralympic Games (@Paralympics) on November 3, 2020.

In Dahl’s original novel, the witches have “square feet with no toes” and “claws instead of fingernails” and are depicted in the cover art as having five fingers. In the 1990 film the witches are also shown as having five fingers. For some reason they have used creative license to change that and upset a community of beautiful, resilient humans.

Warner Bros. has now issued a statement of regret as a studio spokesperson 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 offense 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,” the statement continued. “It was never the intention for viewers to feel that the fantastical, non-human creatures were meant to represent them. 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.”

As a person who was born with a “limb difference” I can honestly say that I personally am not “offended” about the depiction. I am sure that the majority in the #NotaWitch camp are not “offended”. Perhaps more annoyed by the non apology and lack of awareness at the potential impact of popular culture and its stigma perpetuating narratives on our children. Disability should not be a taboo. I remember the recent intolerant response to the BBC presenter who had one arm as ‘scaring children’. We should do better at educating our children to look for the similarities not the differences we all share.

Throughout history people with disabilities have been persecuted. The last literal witch hunt execution in Scotland was in 1722 The ‘Dornoch ‘witch’ who had a daughter with a deformed hand. Villagers said she ‘transformed her daughter into a pony which she rode to witches meetings and on Satan’s errands’. Some of the first victims of the holocaust were also disabled, and portrayed as a burden. We like to think we have moved forward as a civilised society but we have to recognise we all still have blind spots and biases for things that are out of our experience.

I say I’m not “offended” as a 40 year old man that has only just started wearing T-shirts in public after lifelong feelings of shame, guilt and a lack of self acceptance. I say this as a 40 year old man that used substances for many years to numb the feeling that i wasn’t enough and to ‘fit in’. I say this as a man who has fought, often literally to not feel like or be seen as a victim.

I do not speak however, for the young kids that get bullied at school because they are ‘different’ or for the young boy that has to go swimming for the first time worried about how he looks. I do not speak for a “disabled community” or anyone other than myself, and perhaps the younger me. The younger me that had no positive limb different role models in his life. To him i would say… ‘You are more capable and resilient than you know. ‘

When Janet Home (The Dornoch ‘witch) arrived at the execution spot, after being tarred and feathered, she is said to have warmed her hands at the fire prepared for her burning, saying ‘Eh, what a bonnie blaze’.

I love the stoic mantra of ‘Amor Fati’ which loosely translates as love your fate. Seize it, own it, and live your life with confidence that you are enough. Limb difference is not scary, and neither are we victims. There are so many positive role models now we can follow through social media, so many inspiring stories of hope, resilience and overcoming adversity. Whatever hollywood does or doesn’t do, just be kind to each other and yourselves.