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Why Roald Dahl fans are obsessed with this Charlie and the Chocolate Factory artwork

Posted by
Hannah-Rose Yee
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People are calling for Netflix to hire the artist to work on their new adaptation of the author’s most iconic series for a very important reason.

A small, scrawny boy stands in the snow, clad in a thin jacket and a stripey polo shirt. In one hand he grips onto a chocolate bar, but it’s what is in his other fist that has him transfixed: a golden ticket. One of just five hidden by the chocolate impresario Willy Wonka inside his bars for lucky children to find, a ticket that grants them unfettered access to Wonka’s famous chocolate factory and the secrets of his business.

This boy, of course, is Charlie Bucket, the hero of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Quiet and respectful, he comes from a poor family and lives in a cramped flat in London with his parents and both sets of grandparents.

But this image, drawn by author and illustrator Vashti Harrison, portrays Dahl’s most iconic character in a way he hasn’t previously been depicted. Harrison’s image shows Charlie Bucket as a young black boy.

The image has gone viral on Twitter, with women including Rosanna Arquette and Ava DuVernay sharing their appreciation of the fan art and its powerful message. “Be still my heart,” DuVernay tweeted. “I would 1000% watch an animated remake animated and art directed by this person and directed by you,” Ariel Dumas, a screenwriter for Stephen Colbert, responded.

Others, knowing that Netflix has recently commissioned a swathe of Roald Dahl reboots, suggested that the streaming platform hire Harrison to produce an all-black reboot of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory immediately, with Donald Glover or even Janelle Monae as the notorious chocolatier.

“This is so beautiful and now I want a full animated Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie done by you,” one fan tweeted. Another added: “Netflix, hit her up!” 

1971’s Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory

Harrison was inspired to create her image after watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the 1971 musical adaptation of Dahl’s novel starring Gene Wilder on television. While sharing the picture on Twitter – which has now received more than 8,600 retweets and more than 51,000 likes – Harrison reminded her followers that, in Dahl’s original version, the Buckets were written as a black family. According to Dahl’s biographer, it was the author’s agent who told him to make the Bucket family white.

“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,” Roald Dahl biographer Donald Sturrock told BBC Radio 4 in 2017. “[Dahl’s agent] said people would ask: ‘Why?’” 

Dahl’s widow Felicity echoed Sturrock’s statements. “His first Charlie that he wrote about was a little black boy,” she said. Of the change, she said: “It’s a great pity.” According to Felicity, a “reworking” of the story from a black family’s perspectives “would be wonderful, wouldn’t it?”

Now that Netflix has commissioned an animated reboot of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, as well as other beloved Dahl titles including Matilda and The BFG, we’re hoping that this new reboot will feature the Buckets as a black family. 

Images: Warner Bros

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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