Charlie And The Chocolate Factory Has A Dark Secret

Charlie and Chocolate Factory/Anastasia Alen/Flickr/CC-NC-SA-2.0

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In 1964, Roald Dahl introduced the world to the classic story of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but little did we know that he made a major change right before releasing the book. It turns out the character Charlie was originally written as a Black boy.

Yep, you read that right. The iconic protagonist, who escaped poverty after receiving a golden ticket to meet master chocolatier Willy Wonka, was intended to tell the story of an 11-year old Black boy and his family.

Pressure from Dahl’s agent, who was skeptical about printing a book featuring a Black main character, led to the monumental change that now has us thinking, “Well, what if?”

What would it have meant to have a Black Charlie in the 1960s? What if the movie adaptations featured a Black child? Given the book’s release in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, it gives us cause to wonder if a story of this magnitude could have had an impact or become an African-American staple.

It is fascinating and disturbing at the same time to know that Charlie was supposed to be Black because Dahl caught flack from the NAACP for his famous Oompa Loompas, who were not always orange. In the first edition of the book, the Oompa Loompas were described as African pygmies that were rescued by Willy Wonka from the terrors of their homeland to work in his factory.

The NAACP believed the relationship between the African-inspired Oompa Loompas and white master-esque Willy Wonka depicted slavery and should be stripped from the children’s novel. Although Dahl denied this claim, he rewrote the Oompa Loompas to be white with green hair.

The news that Charlie was Black even has famed director Ava Duvernay chiming in and calling for a new movie adaptation launching a frenzy of twitter banter about who could play the part.

Representation in children’s books and films is not a trivial issue. As kids form their identities, the images they see in print and on-screen play an instrumental role in what they learn, perceive, and accept as Blackness. For Black children specifically, positive depictions of Black life in these mediums are scarce so each one counts.

Unfortunately, Dahl fell victim to mainstream expectations and gave up what could have been the most transformative detail in his story. Thankfully, there are plenty of Black children’s books that tell the stories our kids need to hear and you can check out some of the best-sellers here.

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