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Binghamton U. lecturer: ‘Wonka’ implicitly racist, has ‘remnants’ of book’s past racism

A lecturer at New York State’s Binghamton University says the new film “Wonka” has racist “remnants of the novel’s past” and complains the main black character “takes a back seat” to the protagonist.

Meisha Lohmann, a self-described “specialist in decoding hidden meaning and dark realities” in kids’ books, writes in The Conversation that several years back she found a 1964 edition of Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and was aghast at the depictions of the Oompa-Loompas.

In it, Wonka describes the Oompas as “tiny miniature pygmies” from the “very deepest and darkest part of the African jungle where no white man had ever been before.” Stereotypical images of Africans accompany the text.

“Dahl’s book is part of a long history of children’s books that feature racist stereotypes,” Lohmann (pictured) says, and notes stories by Dr. Seuss and the books “Peter Pan” and “Mary Poppins” also have been “criticized for perpetuating racism.”

Dahl changed the Oompas’ origin a decade later following criticism by the NAACP. The characters’ skin was altered to “rosy-white,” and they now came from “Loompaland.”

Nevertheless, later editions still had “parallels with slavery” such as how Wonka “smuggled” in the Oompas (“clearly recalls slave ships”) and his method of payment in cocoa beans “reinforces [the Oompas’] subjugation” to the “Great White Father.”

The 2023 film version starring Timothée Chalamet maintains the “implicit racism” of the revised novel, Lohmann argues. For instance, the black character Noodle “takes a back seat to Wonka in the major events of the film,” and for a time (black) actor Donald Glover was considered for the role of Wonka — which would have “at least begun to force a rewrite of the original novel’s racist narrative.”

[T]he film casts Noodle in the position of an unfortunate Black girl who can only hope for a ride on Wonka’s velvet coattails. “I know things haven’t been easy for you,” Wonka says in the movie. “They’re going to get better.” “You promise?” Noodle replies, hopefully, and he does promise, highlighting his role as her white savior.

According to her profile, Lohmann’s research deals with “gender and sexuality in medieval literature and drama,” and her course “Queer Knights and Sexy Nuns” is described as “an investigation of medieval gender and sexuality.”

MORE: Affluent school district warns against reading Dr. Seuss due to ‘racial undertones’

IMAGES: Sethsfilmreviews/X; Meisha Lohmann/Linkedin

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.