In early drafts of Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the late British author envisioned 11-year-old protagonist Charlie Bucket very differently than he is typically portrayed–Dahl originally intended for Charlie to be black.
Liccy Dahl, Roald Dahl’s widow, and her husband's biographer, Donald Sturrock, recently sat down for an interview with BBC Radio 4, where they explained why Dahl gave in and made Charlie white.
“His first Charlie that he wrote about was a little black boy,” Liccy Dahl said on the program, as reported by BBC. “I'm sure that was influenced by America.” BBC adds that Liccy Dahl thought the change was a “great pity.”
“It was his agent who thought it was a bad idea, when the book was first published, to have a black hero,” added Sturrock. “She said people would ask, why?”
“Well that's the next book, isn't it? A reworking,” the radio host asked the pair. Liccy Dahl seemed on board with the idea. She replied, “I know, it would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?”
As pointed out by the Huffington Post, Dahl’s agent’s insistence on making Charlie white instead of black is an example of the whitewashing that occurs all too often in the entertainment industry. Not to mention, the decision had a huge impact on the two film versions of the story, both of which feature a white Charlie (and almost all-white casts)
After BBC Radio 4 tweeted the revealing clip, many people responded, expressing their disbelief that the book was whitewashed in this way.
Others shared a reminder that because Dahl was white, perhaps he would not have been able to authentically portray Charlie (and his family) as black.
Either way, the reason Charlie is white in the books and films is deeply rooted in racism...just like a lot of stuff in America right now. :(