Roald Dahl Wanted Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's Lead to be Black

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Roald Dahl's beloved children's novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tells the story of Charlie Bucket, an 11-year-old boy from a poverty-stricken white household who becomes the successor to Willy Wonka's massive candy kingdom. According to Roald's widow Liccy, however, the writer originally envisioned a different representation of the story's leading character.

"His first Charlie that he wrote about, you know, was a little black boy," Liccy said in a radio interview with BBC Radio 4's Today. "I'm sure that was influenced by America," she added, referring to the Civil Rights Movement that was in full-swing during 1964 when the novel was released. When asked why, she replied, "I don't know. It's a great pity."

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Donald Sturrock, author of Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl who accompanied Liccy Dahl during the interview that took place on what would have been Roald's 101st birthday, explained what led to the change.  "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.'"

Despite the protagonist switch due to his agent's urging, Dahl still failed to escape Charlie and the Chocolate Factory without controversy. The story's Oompa Loompas, the race of small people who assist Willy Wonka with the upkeep and operations of his factory, caused a stir with the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), citing inappropriate connotations to slavery.

In the story's first edition, the Oompa Loompas were initially described as "black pygmies" before being changed to "rosy-white" in complexion in later versions and orange-skinned in cinematic treatments.

(via BBC News)

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