Charlie Bucket was black, says Dahl’s widow
Roald Dahl originally wanted the eponymous hero of his much-loved children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to be black, his widow has said.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for Roald Dahl day yesterday, Liccy Dahl said: “His first Charlie that he wrote about was a little black boy.”
Asked why the character – 11-year-old Charlie Bucket – was made white, she replied: “I don’t know. It’s a great pity.”
Her husband’s biographer, Donald Sturrock, who was also interviewed, said the change before publication in 1964 was driven by Dahl’s agent, who thought a black Charlie would not appeal to readers. “It was his agent who thought it was a bad idea, when the book was first published, to have a black hero,” said Sturrock. “She said people would ask: ‘Why?’”
The revelation may surprise those who accused Dahl of racism because the Oompa Loompas in the original version were black pygmies from Africa.
The news in 1970 that the book was to be filmed drew criticism from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which said the importation of the Oompa Loompas to the factory had overtones of slavery. The film, released in 1971 as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, avoided the issue by giving them green hair and orange skin.
Dahl insisted there was no racist intent but also said he found himself sympathising with the NAACP. As a result, he rewrote the characters in time for the second US edition as white hippy-ish dwarves hailing from an invented place, Loompaland.
According to the Bookseller magazine, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is Dahl’s bestselling book, with almost 1m sales.
British actor Freddie Highmore portrayed Charlie Bucket in the 2005 film version of the book, in which Johnny Depp also starred