I have been knee-deep writing about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl for one of my final papers. Did you ever wonder why the book was called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the movie was called Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory instead? (I did). If you ever watch the documentary “Pure Imagination” about the filming of the movie (it usually is a special in the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory dvd), you will see the producers say that it was because they were releasing an actual Wonka candy bar and wanted it to coincide to boost sales.
But after reading Dahl’s biography by Donald Sturrock, it looks like the reason behind the name change was much different. Seems that the NAACP caught wind of the planning stages of turning the book into a movie and protested/boycotted its creation because it negatively depicts Africans. Before the Oompa-Loompa’s were Oompa-Loompa’s, they were African pygmies coming to work for Willy Wonka (basically as slaves). So if you can somehow get your hands on the original copy you will see it so, at one point they’re even rowing a galley boat. The NAACP insisted that the movie not get made. What the producers instead did was make Dahl change them for the movie - somehow that translated to creating Oompa-Loompa’s from Loompaland and the strange orange men with green hair you see in the 1971 movie. The producers also changed the title to slightly disassociate the idea from the book (even though Dahl protested the name change).
Dahl was extremely embarrassed because he never intended it to be represented that way. Another case of didn’t mean to be racist (remember what I wrote about Babar?) Dahl not only allowed the changes in the movie (which he wrote the screenplay for), he subsequently changed this part of the book too. The 1973 edition of the book have white Oompa-Loompa’s.
From first 1964 publication of Charlie and the Chocolate factory 1964, before they were Oompa-Loompa’s. Illustrated by John Schindelman
From the second publication of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 1973, after the movie came out, also illustrated by Joseph Schindelman
Oompa Loompa’s from there on up until current times, by Quentin Blake
Does this mean the book should be banned? Well, no. Is it good that they changed it, absolutely. And best yet, Dahl recognized it and changed it himself. Racism in children’s books perpetuates stereotypes that we cannot afford to keep passing down. If you need a refresher, please read this, where I wrote how kids books need to be mirrors and windows.
I got the illustrations above from Phil Nel’s blog, where you’ll find some more information about censoring racism in children’s books.