Netflix’s new fantasy series, “The Witcher,” has generally been well-received (it has a 92% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes), but some have taken issue with an ableist plotline in the show. If you are planning to watch the new series, please be aware there are spoilers below.
Yennefer (played by Anya Chalotra) is a disabled character in the series born with a hunchback. Throughout her childhood, she is abused at the hands of her father because of her disability. During the third episode of season one, Yennefer (now an adult), seeks out the help of a magical enchanter to remove her hunchback. At this point, Yennefer is transformed into a non-disabled woman, and later becomes a powerful sorceress.
Though the message was likely intended to be empowering, this plotline actually reinforces a tired and harmful notion that in order to be successful, people must “rise above” or “erase” their physical disabilities in order to succeed. Vox writer Alex Abad-Santos commented on the problematic nature of her transformation:
At some point, you get the sense that Yennefer will represent a lesson about how greatness can come from the people, women especially, who we overlook the most. Which is a fine lesson to teach, except that Yennefer is almost immediately transformed into a hot, booby witch.
In addition to this plotline, Yennefer is played by a non-disabled actor — a common casting practice in the entertainment industry. According to the Ruderman Family Foundation, only 2% of TV characters have disabilities, and of those, 95% are played by non-disabled actors.