Yesterday, author Roald Dahl’s widow revealed that Charlie was black but Dahl was persuaded to make him white. I find it so interesting the concept of white washing can be found tucked away in a book that was written more than 54 years ago. I know some people will think Charlie’s skin colour is not that deep, but to me this revelation points to a valuable home truth people of colour need to learn.
Yesterday, in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme Liccy Dahl said Roald Dahl’s
“first Charlie that he wrote about was a little black boy.”
Right now you are either not seeing why I have decided to write this article, which is fine, but I hope you can use a bit of empathy to appreciate my reason, or you are not surprised but frustrated that white-washing, an indicator of white supremacy, was present in the creation of Roald Dahl’s best selling book (almost 1 million sales).
Donald Sturrock, Roald Dahl’s biographer, was also being interviewed, and said:
“I can tell you that 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?”
I can’t say I’m surprised that Dahl listened to his agent, he wanted to assuredly make the book sell, and presumably didn’t have a burning desire to reflect black characters as heroes.
Although if he had it would have been nothing short of revolutionary- especially considering the first ever, US, edition of the ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ came out more than 6 months before the United State’s Civil Rights Act.
I understand Roald Dahl’s not here to defend himself, nor clarify why he decided to listen to his agent, so with respect to the dead, and a great author- at least he tried.
The Valuable Home Truth:
This brings me to my valuable home truth for black people, and all people of color, who are fictionally white-washed, replaced by ‘better’ actors, who are readily available, and not willing to use a bit of educated empathy to acknowledge why taking up a role of a character (fictional or non-fictional ) who was not written to be any colour other than his or her own is offensive.
It wipes out the credibility and legitimacy for actors of colour to play characters based on their race, culture, ethnicity.
and its not ‘just acting’ because real people feel marginalized, alienated, and undervalued.
The home truth is that black people, and people of colour, need to realize that the only way for fictional representation in the arts is to create their own stories.
Lets instead make our own stories, our own characters, and our own art.
So I’d really like to see some new black main characters on our TVs, movie screens, online, or in books!
I know there are some out there already, and more grease to all the elbows making that happen.
Lets all (whatever colour your are) try to support those creatives of colour who are trying to make this happen whatever stage of their journey they’re on, and lets keep supporting the creatives of colour who want to continue creating characters of colour!
Chijioke Anosike TWN Editor