What a mess for poor Anne Hathaway! Her portrayal of the Grand Witch in the film adaptation of Rohald Dahl’s book, “The Witches,” caused a lot of controversy on social media. The evil witch has claws for hands in the original version, but in this remake, she sports hands with ectrodactyly, a congenital malformation. The wave of protests on social media, led by athletes with disabilities, emphasized that the film perpetuated negative stereotypes about people with different limbs.
The argument is valid. The stigma and discrimination that people with disabilities must deal with are already enough for a film -that reaches so many children- to promote the idea that they are rare and villains. It is not new. Shakespeare described Richard III as a disabled villain, and so did Homer with the Cyclopes. Throughout history, people with disabilities have been characterized as sick to be cured and not citizens with rights that states must guarantee.
The recent controversy highlighted this social group’s primary quest: to transform the culture to be included. Negative stereotypes help perpetuate attitudinal barriers that become obstacles to finding work, studying, or participating in other social activities.
The impact of popular culture and entertainment on the behavior of a society is not small. For example, rigorous studies in Brazil, India, and Nigeria demonstrated soap operas’ role in changing deeply ingrained attitudes and behaviors in areas where this is notoriously difficult to achieve, such as desired family size and risky sexual behavior.
The content of educational and cultural entertainment about a disability must be developed with great care to avoid stereotypes and, instead, promote a paradigm where the disability is not in the individual but the relationship between the disability of the person and the barriers present in their environment. The Ford Foundation recently put out a post describing how to do it right.
Keeping these guides in mind and intending to bring new audiences to the issues surrounding the lives of people with disabilities, the Inter-American Development Bank held a festival of animated short films on disability issues. The result was excellent. One of the attendees said, “Wonderful! … The best use of confinement, creating something so important to communicate and ensure that rights are respected and that the many other capacities are also seen. A historical event and the use of animation, a great medium to communicate. “
But we know that changing attitudes is necessary but not sufficient for inclusion. It complements concrete and essential interventions to ensure more accessible workplaces, schools, and public infrastructure in physical spaces, digital services, and human services.
Anne Hathaway apologized. She took an empathetic, honest, and well thought out video from her Instagram account saying that she promised to “do better” in the future. The truth is that we live in a time when, of good or bad intention, many unwary ends up in front of the internet court where careers and reputations are destroyed by the rabid masses who want blood. And it would be unfortunate if the only conclusion from this is that Anne Hathaway is a very good or terrible person. Instead, it serves as an opportunity to leverage real changes. How about using your and Warner Bros. media platforms to promote productivity and employment for people with disabilities? What if it at least serves for all of us to step into our realities to change our way of thinking about disabilities?