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#NotAWitch: Island woman explains why it’s time for Hollywood to change its views on disability

Becky Cant
Becky Cant

Becky Cant is quietly confident, and the lilt of her Orcadian accent is still very much intact.

The 26-year-old is a long way from home, having left the islands to study in Glasgow before moving to London.

Her job as a production co-ordinator in the TV industry means there’s rarely a spare moment – but Becky is determined to find the time when it’s something she’s passionate about.

She credits her upbringing in a small community for her determination, which has seen her trek through the jungles of Borneo and inspire others.

Her surname should not be taken literally, for Becky’s mantra is “I can”.

A quick glance at her social media profile tells of far-flung travels and good friends, or as Becky describes it: “Disability/mental health awareness, positivity and activism.”

It is a life which Becky has fought for, and one which she is clearly leading with gusto.

She was born with limb difference and underwent several operations in early childhood.

You might never have come across Becky’s disability, until limb difference was depicted as something completely different on the big screen.

In the new adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1983 book The Witches, the fearsome witches are revealed to have three elongated fingers on each hand and toe-less feet.

Actress Anne Hathaway, who stars as Grand High Witch, has apologised after the hashtag #NotAWitch began trending on social media.

Those with hand and arm impairments have accused the film of being insensitive towards disabled people, and say it gives the message that people with limb difference are villains.

Unfortunately for Becky, this isn’t a new conversation.

But she is hopeful that by speaking up, the same mistake won’t be made in the future.

“I was born with limb difference, so I’ve never known any other,” said Becky.

“Growing up in a small community, it’s very obvious that you are different and you do stick out. Everyone might not know you personally, but at the same time they know who you are.

“I think Orkney was a huge positive in so many ways, though. People never questioned that I was different, it was just accepted.”

Although Becky was rarely on the receiving end of difficult comments, she still had to face the teenage years.

“Forming confidence and self-esteem was much harder,” she said.

“There was no one else like me, no one I could bounce off or take inspiration from. I had to navigate all these hurdles myself and build resilience.

“I knew I looked different from an early age, because I had to go into hospital for operations.

“When I was born my fingers were joined together, so I needed operations to split them and to give me pincher functionality.

“I’ve never known any different though, so I’ve just learned how to do things my way.

“I have a very supportive family and we’ve figured things out altogether.

“Limb difference has never stopped me.”

When Becky was 16, she went on a month-long trek in Borneo. She believes the experience shaped her, and still takes lessons from it today.

Becky in Borneo

“When you have trekked through the jungle with people in wheelchairs, people with visual impairments, you learn what teamwork is,” she said.

“Going to university wasn’t such a big leap because I had already been away from home.

“I’m not easily offended and I always invite people to have a conversation.

“Getting stared at has happened to me for my whole life. Any negativity, well I can usually brush it off.

“But when it comes to The Witches, limb difference wasn’t in the original book or film.

Anne Hathaway as Grand High Witch in the 2020 movie adaptation of the Roald Dahl book.

“The specific type of limb difference shown is Ectrodactyly, and I don’t really understand why it was included.”

Paralympians, including multiple Paralympic medal-winning athlete Claire Cashmore MBE, believes the decision could negatively impact children’s perceptions of difference.

“As someone with limb difference, I don’t see representation all that much on TV,” said Becky.

“It’s disappointing because limb difference has been portrayed as something extra gruesome, to be hidden away under gloves.

“This isn’t the first time this happened, the butler in Scary Movie 2, for example.

“It’s not to say that having a disability doesn’t make you a villain, you don’t get a gold ticket for being a nice person.

“But it just gives people more agency to view limb difference as something horrible.”

… for children watching The Witches who have limb difference. Just because this character is evil, it doesn’t mean you are.”

Although Becky has experienced backlash on social media, she believes most people want to see better representation and diversity.

“Someone asked what if all villains wore glasses, would that make people who wear glasses evil,” she said.

“But wearing glasses doesn’t impact on your entire life, it’s not really the same.

“I think this shows the importance of having a diversity co-ordinator, and more disabled people in the team.

“And for children watching The Witches who have limb difference.

“Just because this character is evil, it doesn’t mean you are.”

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