Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Willie, Sambo, and Childhood impressions

I came across the best critique I've seen so far on the racism in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory today...

You can read the article here:

The author discusses the racism inherent in the story of how the Oompa Loompas come to be in the first world, not to mention the aspect of total slavery they are reduced to in the Wonka factory. It is very good, highly recommended to you all.

I did not realize that Roald Dahl changed the story in the early 1970's due to this very critique. And now Tim Burton has reverted to the original. That's an interesting little tidbit.

After reading the essay I came across a response by the author to someone telling him he was full of sh*t, that I think is equally worth sharing:

"You may find it interesting to know, that I too felt much the way you now do on the subject, not that long ago infact , maybe only 5 years or so.

"Since than I have changed my mind, or perhaps I better way of putting it would be that I have had my eyes and ears opened to the ways in which subtle racism seeps into all our minds from a very young age. I think, therefore, it is helpful to try to find out where some of these notions come from.

"It is the fact that Willy Wonka is a whimsical and seemingly harmless story that I find most unsettling. It is precisely these types of tales for children that begin to shape our impressions of other peoples and cultures and races. At this delicate and impressionable young age we start to pick up the subtle ways in which others are portrayed. Not just in book but in music, on TV and in the movies.

"Later in life when we see or hear about a person from India, Indonesia or Iraq we have in our minds a sort of mental picture of what people from that part of the world are like. Sadly because of this many Americans wrong imagine them as violent or backwards or savage or simply lesser than us in some way.

"I am not saying that Willy Wonka is the only film or book that helps give us these impression; I am only using it as an example."

He goes on to say that he isn't advocating a boycott of the movie, just that we should approach it critically.

I think a similar perspective can be taken when considering Sambo. Having grown up loving both Sambo and Willie Wonka, it's sad for me in some ways that I have to think of them through a new lense--a more realistic and moral lense. But, as an adult that's what I have to do.


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