10 November 2020 (Last updated: 18 Dec 2020 14:27)
Members may already be aware that the recent film readaptation of the Roald Dahl classic 'The Witches' has been criticised for its depictions of limb difference. Ruth Lester and Gill Smith, together with the Comms Team and Council, have drawn up a statement in response on behalf of the Society:
As hand surgeons, we treat many patients with hands that differ in appearance which can result in distress and loss of self-esteem. We spend years supporting children, parents and affected adults to overcome the bullying that can result from their conditions and strive to challenge public perception that hand differences are to be ridiculed or feared. We are therefore disappointed that in the recent re-adaptation of Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’, Warner Brothers chose to use a typical hand difference recognisable to our patients, as a key attribute to depict the film’s sinister villains, different to the original description in the book. Such depictions, although fictional, are undoubtedly influential on public attitudes to limb deformity, a consequence which our patients have already begun to encounter since the film’s release.
Societal views on disability have changed since the original Dahl book was written. The Paralympics and Invictus games, along with multiple TV shows have exemplified positive attitudes towards those with visible differences. We are appalled that instead of following this model of celebrating this ability to overcome adversity and prosper, Warner Brothers have made the decision to instead promote an outdated public view that hand differences are something to be feared.
Diversity should be celebrated in all its forms, including that of our bodies, and portrayal of these differences in a negative light for entertainment purposes is no longer acceptable. Those living with a visible limb difference will always have our full support and respect as hand surgeons, and we expect a far more responsible attitude from a multinational entertainment conglomerate. We therefore call on Warner Brothers to amend the credits of their film to include mention of resources such as the ones listed below that support those living with a limb difference and urge them to consider producing films that portray limb differences in a more positive light to help normalise the experience for those living with them.
Response from Warner Brothers
Dear Professor Warwick,
I am confirming receipt of your letter to Ann Sarnoff regarding our film The Witches. I wanted to follow up on your note, as some of the action items you suggested that the studio should do as next steps are ones we proactively took when this was first brought to our attention. We issued a statement to the press and also responded directly to many of the families that reached out to us. I have included our public statement below. In addition Anne Hathaway, who is the lead actress in the film, issued a statement as well, highlighting the work of the Lucky Fin Project, which as you note in your letter is a nonprofit organization that exists to raise awareness and celebrate children, individuals, and families affected by limb differences. Warner Bros. and WarnerMedia also partnered with Lucky Fin and made a donation to the organization to help continue raising awareness. We appreciate you reaching out.
Statement regarding The Witches
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. 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.
Statement from Anne Hathaway
Big thanks to the @Lucky_Fin_Project for allowing me to use this video
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.
Head of Global Communications, WarnerMedia Studios and Networks Group
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