'Charlie' of Chocolate Factory Was Supposed to Be Black

Roald Dahl gave in to 'the American sensibility' when he made hero white
By Linda Hervieux,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 18, 2017 10:20 AM CDT

The young hero of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was originally black, but author Roald Dahl changed his race to white, NPR reports. "His first Charlie that he wrote about ... was a little black boy," Dahl's widow, Felicity Dahl, tells the BBC's Radio 4. Dahl's agent thought it was a "bad idea" to cast a black protagonist as Charlie Bucket and talked him out of it, says Dahl biographer Donald Sturrock. "She said, 'People would ask why'" the character was black. Per the New York Times, Sturrock says that Dahl caved to "the American sensibility" when he recast Charlie—a decision Felicity Dahl calls a "great pity." The 1964 classic about a poor British boy whose life is changed when he wins a golden ticket to tour Willy Wonka's factory inspired two major films. (Dahl's widow says he didn't like the 1971 version with Gene Wilder, per the BBC.)

Speaking last week for the 101st anniversary of Dahl's birth, Felicity Dahl says it would be "wonderful" to see a black Charlie in a new version of the book. The Twittersphere went a step further, with fans pondering who could play a black Willy on the big screen, per Entertainment Weekly. One suggested Tituss Burgess. "Ummmmm oh the fun I would have!" Burgess tweeted in response. With nearly 1 million in sales, Charlie was Dahl's top-selling book, per the Guardian, but the complicated author's success came with controversy. In the first edition, Oompa-Loompas were depicted as African pygmies. After the NAACP complained, Dahl made them orange, per NPR. Dahl, who died in 1990, was also dogged by charges of anti-Semitism. (A chapter of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was lost—and then found.)

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