Bake Off star: The Witches film will have intensely negative effect on children

Former Great British Bake Off contestant Briony May Williams has claimed the depiction of Anne Hathaway’s hands in The Witches film will have an “intensely negative effect” on disabled children for “years and years to come”.

The latest adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1983 book, which stars Hathaway as the Grand High Witch, has been accused of being insensitive towards people with limb impairments over its depiction of her character having three elongated fingers on each hand.

Both the novel and the 1990 film starring Anjelica Huston portrayed the witches as having five fingers.

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This is really hard post for me to write. I’ve kept quiet about the controversy surrounding the depiction of the witches’ hands in the new film version of the Roald Dahl classic but I can’t anymore because it’s really got to me. I want to point out a few things first and that is in the original book, the witches were not described as missing fingers, they had claws instead of nails which they used gloves to cover. In the 1990 version of the film, they didn’t give the witches missing fingers (as you can see in the pics). When I look at the pictures of @annehathaway with her witch hands, it brings tears to my eyes because I see MY hand in the photos. I see my genetic disorder that caused me to be born without any fingers on my left hand. I see something to be afraid of, something meant to make you feel sick and revolted. This isn’t about being overly sensitive, a “snowflake” or being too politically correct. This is about showcasing limb difference as ugly, scary, gross and evil. They didn’t need to do this, look at the book, the original film. How did they think this was acceptable? I’m very proud of my hand, it’s taken me decades to get there but I am. When I was on Bake Off, I had people tweet me saying I look like the guy on Freddy Got Fingered. I feel desperately sad for those people out there, especially children, with a limb difference who are ashamed of it or embarrassed because this will knock them harder than you know. I’m so pleased that people and charities are speaking up because it’s not ok. #notawitch @reachcharity1 @alex_brooker @ella.dickinson @lucky_fin_project

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Academy Award winner Hathaway and the studio Warner Bros have both since issued apologies although the depiction remains in the film.

Williams, who has a congenital defect called symbrachydactyly which affects a single upper limb, has criticised the studio.

The 36-year-old called on Warner Bros to edit the offending scenes or include a disclaimer warning viewers.

She told the PA news agency the depiction had left her “really angry and upset”.

She said: “I look at that picture and makes me feel quite sick at the fact they have used what is something so personal and sensitive for so many people to make some witch really scary and disgusting.

“It’s not even me that it upsets me for. It’s for the kids who are looking. It’s a PG film.

Anne Hathaway
Anne Hathaway has apologised following a backlash against the depiction of her character in The Witches (PA/Warner Bros)

“What I find most distressing is that there are going to be kids going to see this or watching in their living room at home who have got hands like mine or limb differences and they are going to think, ‘Oh that’s what people think of me’.

“I was really quite worried that people were going to be, ‘Don’t be so over sensitive’ or ‘Don’t be such a snowflake’.

“Actually I am not being oversensitive. This is deeply upsetting to me that I have messages from parents all the time saying, ‘We loved seeing you on Bake Off. Thank you, my daughter has got a hand like yours and she was really pleased to see someone like her on the telly in a positive light’.

“So as much as that has a positive impact on these young people, seeing something like Anne Hathaway’s hand in The Witches is going to have an intensely negative effect.”

Williams, who appeared on Bake Off in 2018 and presents Food Unwrapped on Channel 4, said appearing on the show had helped her become proud of her hand.

She added: “(The Witches) has really set me back and I am 36. Imagine being a six-year-old or a 10-year-old or a 15-year-old. If I had seen this when I was 10 I would have been completely devastated.

“This would have had an impact on me for years and years to come.

“Yeah, OK, Warner Brothers have apologised loosely and Anne Hathaway has apologised but the fact is the film is still out there and kids are going to see it.”

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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.

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Williams said she believed Hathaway’s apology was genuine but said it was “too little too late”.

She said: “The film is already out there. The damage is done in a lot of ways and a lot of the damage they have done is completely irreparable to a lot of kids and adults out there.”

British Para swimmer Amy Marren and Strictly Come Dancing contestant JJ Chalmers were among those criticising director Robert Zemeckis’ recent adaptation, saying its depiction of the witches’ hands could be harmful to people – especially children – with limb impairments.

In an Instagram post, Hathaway said she was someone who “really believes in inclusivity and really, really detests cruelty” and apologised “for the pain caused”.

She added: “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.”

Hathaway also shared a video from the Lucky Fin Project, an organisation supporting those with limb differences.

A Warner Bros representative said filmmakers were “deeply saddened” at causing upset.

The Witches also stars Octavia Spencer and Stanley Tucci.

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