This past weekend, anti-“cancel culture” activists got new ammunition after British newspaper The Telegraph reported that new editions of British children’s writer (and notorious antisemite) Roald Dahl have edited and changed the author’s original text to remove objectionable elements and make the books more inclusive.
Changes include removing the word “fat” from descriptions of characters like Augustus Gloop in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” making language in “The Twits” and “Matilda” more gender neutral, and adding lines like “There are plenty of other reasons why women might wear wigs and there is certainly nothing wrong with that” to “The Witches.” Although Dahl is notorious for his racist, sexist, and antisemitic writing over the course of his life, the alterations to his work rubbed many the wrong way, with authors like Salman Rushdie calling it “censorship.”
Since the changes made to the new editions were reported, some commentators have pointed the finger at Netflix as the culprit behind the alterations. In 2021, the streaming giant acquired the Roald Dahl Story Company, which owns the publishing rights to all of Dahl’s work. In a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, writer Meghan Cox Gourdon wrote “Dahl, who died in 1990, didn’t agree to these changes — consent came from Netflix, which bought Dahl’s estate in 2018.”
So is the streamer to blame? Well, it’s true that Dahl didn’t consent to the changes, Netflix doesn’t have much to do with them either. Although Netflix now does own RDSC, work on these new editions was done by the company, publisher Puffin Books, and Inclusive Minds, an inclusion and accessibility in literature collective. Furthermore, in a statement to IndieWire, RDSC said that the process of updating the language of the books began in 2020, a year before Netflix made the acquisition deal.
“We want to ensure that Roald Dahl’s wonderful stories and characters continue to be enjoyed by all children today. When publishing new print runs of books written years ago, it’s not unusual to review the language used alongside updating other details including a book’s cover and page layout,” a representative from the Roald Dahl Story Company said in a statement. “Our guiding principle throughout has been to maintain the storylines, characters, and the irreverence and sharp-edged spirit of the original text. Any changes made have been small and carefully considered.”
“As part of our process to review the language used we worked in partnership with Inclusive Minds, a collective for people who are passionate about inclusion and accessibility in children’s literature,” The statement continues. “The current review began in 2020, before Dahl was acquired by Netflix. It was led by Puffin and Roald Dahl Story Company together.”
A representative from Netflix declined to comment on the edits to Dahl’s books.
Since acquiring The Roald Dahl Story Company, Netflix released “Matilda: The Musical,” based on the 2010 musical of Dahl’s classic 1988 film, and a Wes Anderson film version of his short story collection “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” starring Benedict Cumberbatch is set to release later this year. As part of the acquisition, Netflix also announced a TV series version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and has plans to spend $1 billion in production on various Dahl adaptations.
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