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Charlie From ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ Was Originally Black

Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory
Paramount Pictures

Well, here’s an interesting bit of trivia.

The widow of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl says that Charlie was originally supposed to be a young black boy.

“His first Charlie that he wrote about was a little black boy,” Felicity Dahl told the BBC (via The New York Times). The book was released in 1964 and Felicity claims her husband understood “the American sensibility” and that the notion of making the character black was “influenced by America.”

The ’60s, of course, were a tumultuous time for civil rights in the U.S., so the obvious question is: how did Charlie end up white?

According to Donald Sturrock, the author’s biographer who spoke alongside Felicity on the BBC, blame can be assigned to one person:

“It was his agent who thought it was a bad idea when the book was first published to have a black hero. She said people would ask why.”

Felicity called the decision to make Charlie white “a great pity” and said it would be “wonderful” if there was ever a new version with a black character.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a generally beloved children’s tale and it’s noteworthy that Dahl, who died in 1990, contemplated making the title character black, since the author was accused of being both racist and anti-Semitic, with some even blasting his original portrayal of Oompa Loompas as problematic African pygmies.

The Jewish newspaper The Forward even published an article called “The 5 Most Anti-Semitic Things Roald Dahl Has Ever Said.”

Steven Spielberg directed an adaptation of Dahl’s story The BFG in 2016 and said he did some research and found that Dahl simply “liked to say things he didn’t mean just to get a reaction.”

Whatever Dahl’s beliefs were, they haven’t put much of a dent in people’s appreciation for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which inspired the iconic 1971 movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It was even remade with Johnny Depp in 2005 and is currently a Broadway show.

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