CALL TO ACTION FROM THE DISABILITY COMMUNITY TO WARNER BROTHERS "THE WITCHES"
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Dear Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc, ImageMovers, Necropia Entertainment, Esperanto Filmoj, and Double Dare You Productions, Robert Zemeckis, Kenya Barris, Guillermo del Toro, Jack Rapke, Alfonso Cuaron, and Luke Kelly.
On behalf of members of the disability community, we are bringing awareness to the misrepresentation of disability in your production of The Witches that further promotes the stigma that surrounds our community. We are writing to demand Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and the affiliated producing teams for this film commit to actionable steps to increase disability awareness and accurate representation in future film productions.
The villains of The Witches, have a limb difference in which Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. has publicly stated “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.” and “It was never the intention for viewers to feel that the fantastical, non-human creatures were meant to represent them.”
We respect the artistic license to adapt the original source material, however the hands portrayed in the film are exact to many versions of a limb difference called “ectrodactyly” which often has a split-hand and split-foot correlation. Ectrodactyly occurs in approximately 1 in 90,000-100,000 live births worldwide. Congenital limb differences, which is defined as any type of difference in appearance and function of the hand, arm, and shoulder at birth, is reported in 1,500 annual births in the United States. The commonality of these limb differences leaves no excuse for the filmmakers to not have done research to know what type of imagery is, in fact, human.
To most of the 74.1 million youth living in the United States today, this movie will be their first introduction to people with these disabilities. Unfortunately, these disabilities were specifically chosen to instill a grotesque element to the villain character who, despite being claimed by Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. as a “fantastical, non-human creature”, is without a doubt intended to be human-like. The imagery continually used throughout the movie is that ectrodactyly is evil, bad, characteristics of villains, and should be harmed and defeated. The film shots are continually framed to highlight the limb difference as scary and to capitalize on the grotesque nature of them. You have made our disability your prop. You have relied on cheap and easy visual and social stereotypes of disability being bad and evil, and thereby enforce these stereotypes, instead of actually using the creative storytelling skills you are often applauded for.
There are children who have not attended school this week as a direct result of other classmates calling them witches. This is because of the creative choices your team has made. This depiction of our bodies in such a negative light brings harm to our children’s self-concept, access to education, and ability to develop and maintain social relationships.
Our community is both dismayed and appalled this portrayal made it to the screen in 2020. The media is a common way society develops and maintains social scripts or learns how to interact with the world. When the disability community is not accurately represented, we learn that we are not valued by our society. This film serves as a reminder to our community that we are continuously forgotten and excluded.
Nearly 1 in 4 people in the United States identifies with the disability community.
This immediate issue is an example of a greater, systemic issue in the entertainment media. A white paper produced by the Ruderman Family Foundation found that, of the 284 shows across 37 networks in 2018, only 22% of characters were actually authentically representing the disability community (Bar Nissim & Mitte, 2020). Unfortunately, if the disability community is represented at all, it does not represent the intersectionality of the entire community- with largely forgotten intersections of gender identity, racial identity, and/or sexual orientation. There is a significant lack of the diversity in stories from within the disability community.
The Warner Bros. Production Diversity Policy states, “In the early stages of the production process, we will engage with our writers, producers and directors to create a plan for implementing this commitment to diversity and inclusion on our projects, with the goal of providing opportunities for individuals from under-represented groups at all levels.”
You have not kept your promise.
Change can only happen with active commitment.
We ask that Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. takes the following actionable steps to ensure authentic narratives of disability in storytelling.
WE ASK THAT WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. RECOMMITS TO THEIR PRODUCTION DIVERSITY POLICY.
WE ASK THAT WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. COMMITS TO INCLUDING DISABILITY IN MORE OF THEIR FILMS TO ACCURATELY REPRESENT THE CURRENT POPULATION - WITH SPECIFIC CARE GIVEN TO HIGHLIGHTING INTERSECTIONS WITHIN OUR COMMUNITY.
WE ASK THAT WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. COMMITS TO CREATING THE SPACE FOR DISABILITY CONSULTANTS WHO HAVE THE LIVED EXPERIENCE OF DISABILITY AND THE EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND IN DISABILITY STUDIES TO CONSULT ON MOVIES.
WE ASK THAT WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. HIRES DISABLED WRITERS TO CRAFT THEIR STORIES.
WE ASK THAT WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. HIRES CREATIVE MEMBERS FROM THE DISABILITY COMMUNITY TO MAKE ARTISTIC AND DIRECTORIAL DECISIONS AROUND DISABILITY.
WE ASK THAT WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. HIRES ACTORS WITH DISABILITIES TO PLAY THE PARTS WHICH BELONG TO THEM.
WE ASK THAT WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. CONTINUES TO COMMIT FULLY TO THEIR DIVERSITY SHOWCASE FOR ACTORS EACH YEAR.
It is time to rewrite the disability narrative to showcase the talents, drive, and creativity of what life with a disability is. It is not something to be exploited for sources of inspiration, or sources of pity, or sources of villainy. Now is the time to build inclusive communities by broadening the understanding of human variation, adaptation, and the power of authentic storytelling.
According to the white paper produced by the Ruderman Family Foundation, an estimated 50% of the US households want accurate portrayals of disabled characters, with an estimated spending power of $10.4 billion per month. With 25% of our population identifying with disability, here a social and economic group that was not taken into consideration in the slightest.
For parents who have watched The Witches with your children, check Disarming Disability where we have posted a downloadable PDF with guided discussion questions for you to reflect on with your children. It is paramount that we engaged our children in conversations discussing the authentic story of disability vs how disability is often told in our stories. This will correct the damage inflicted on our communities and help empower children both with and without disabilities to build a more inclusive society.
We very much appreciate the genuine apology shared via social media on November 5th by Ms. Hathaway and her efforts to educate herself and supporters on the limb different community. We value her as a new ally for our community.
This movie will have a lasting effect on our community so please know we commit to having a lasting effect to hold production companies accountable on future projects. Our children are too valuable to us.
Nicole Kelly and Sarah Tuberty, OTD
Disarming Disability Podcast
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