HBO Max’s The Witches Faces Backlash From Disability Advocates, Prompting Warner Bros. Apology

Anne Hathaway in The Witches

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The streaming war is in full swing, with plenty of services producing original TV and film content. HBO Max is no exception, as Warner Bros. released Robert Zemeckis' The Witches via streaming in time for Halloween. The remake received mixed reviews, and now it's gotten some backlash from disability advocates.

Warner Bros.' The Witches is catching some heat over the portrayal of The Grand High Witch. Specifically because her hands and feet resemble limb abnormality ectrodactyly, aka "split hand." This condition sees an absence of toes and/or hands, and the look of Anne Hathaway's character has inspired backlash from advocates on social media. Disability advocate Shannon Crossland responded to the movie's messaging, especially for the many kids watching the project at home. She said,

Is this the kind of message we want the next generation to receive. That having three fingers is a witch’s attribute? It is an extremely damaging portrayal. Disability should NOT be associated with evil, abnormality, disgust, fear or monsters.

This type of response was echoed by a number of other influential voices, including British Paralympic swimmer Amy Marren. This type of backlash eventually gained steam online, prompting Warner Bros. to directly address the controversy. Per a statement to Deadline, a studio spokesperson said WB was "deeply saddened to learn that our depiction of the fictional characters in The Witches could upset people with disabilities and "regretted any offense caused."

While some HBO Max subscribers might not have given Anne Hathaway's appearance in The Witches appearance, aside from its departure to Anjelica Huston's original. But the ongoing conversation surrounding the response from the ectrodactyly community further shows the importance of onscreen representation. And having Anne Hathaway use her hands and feet as terrifying weapons throughout the movie's runtime is something that said community took umbrage with.

The Witches is currently streaming in HBO Max. You can use this link to sign up for the streaming service.

Later in that same statement by a Warner Bros. spokesperson, they went on to explain the thought process behind Anne Hathaway's appearance as The Grand High Witch. While apologizing for offending those affected by ectrodactyly, they went on to say,

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.

In the end, this is another point of conversation in exactly how the film and television industry portrays people on screen. And while Warner Bros. has issued a statement, it's too late to actually change the visual and practical effects used for the Grand High Witch throughout the course of the movie's runtime. But hopefully this will help shine a light on the ectrodactyly community, and the specific challenges they're facing in regards to representation.

The Witches was originally meant to arrive in theaters, but ultimately went the streaming route during this unprecedented time in the industry. The same release date was kept, and movie's arrival on HBO Max was just in time for Halloween. Unfortunately, there's obviously been some controversy surrounding Robert Zemeckis' latest.

The Witches is available now on HBO Max. Be sure to check out our 2020 release list to plan your next movie experience.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Graduated with degrees theater and literature from Ramapo College of New Jersey. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid. He's particularly proud of covering horror franchises like Scream and Halloween, as well as movie musicals like West Side Story. Favorite interviews include Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Jamie Lee Curtis, and more.