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September 24, 2021 1:27 pm

UK Jewish Group Urges Netflix to Offer Documentary About Antisemitism That ‘Tarnishes’ Legacy of Children’s Author Roald Dahl


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Roald Dahl. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

After Netflix announced that it acquired the entire catalogue of works by the late British children’s author Roald Dahl, the Board of Deputies of British Jews called on the streaming giant to produce a documentary examining the “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” writer’s antisemitic history.

Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said in a statement on Thursday that Dahl’s “virulent antisemitism” is widely known and had “sadly marred the full enjoyment of his works” for many people.

“We do not believe that Netflix should be prefacing every film and TV series it adapts from Dahl’s works with disclaimers about his bigotry. However, we fear that, as part of Netflix’s stated plans to create a ‘unique universe’ around his works, a by-product of that may be to present Dahl — whether on-screen or off it — as some sort of paragon of kindness and virtue,” she explained. “To avoid such an approach, Netflix should produce a documentary fully exploring the antisemitism that so tarnishes Dahl’s legacy. Failure to do so will not go unnoticed.”

Netflix’s acquisition of the Roald Dahl Story Company (RDSC) gives the streaming platform full rights to all of Dahl’s works, which include “James and the Giant Peach,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” “Matilda,” “The BFG,” “The Witches” and “The Twits.” Dahl’s books have been translated into 63 languages and sold more than 300 million copies worldwide.

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The author was unapologetic about his antisemitism. Months before he died in 1990, at the age of 74, he told The Independent that Jewish publishers “control the media” and said, “I’m certainly anti-Israeli and I’ve become antisemitic in as much as that you get a Jewish person in another country like England strongly supporting Zionism,” The Guardian reported.

He told Britain’s New Statesman magazine that “there is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews … Even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”

He also made comments about “those powerful American Jewish bankers” and claimed that the US government was “utterly dominated by the great Jewish financial institutions over there,” The New York Times has reported.

In a review on a book about the Lebanon War that appeared in the August 1983 edition of the British periodical Literary Review, Dahl said about Jewish people: “Never before in the history of man has a race of people switched so rapidly from being much-pitied victims to barbarous murderers.”

Dahl’s family issued an apology for his antisemitism on the author’s official website in 2020. At the time, van der Zyl said, “This apology should have happened long ago — and it is of concern that it has happened so quietly now.” She also said educators should use Dahl’s books “as an opportunity for young people to learn about his intolerant views.”

Netflix said on Wednesday that its partnership with RDSC began in 2018 with the aim of creating a number of animated television series’ based on Dahl’s books. Academy Award-winning filmmaker Taika Waititi is already working on a series based on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and Netflix is collaborating with Sony and Working Title on an adaptation of “Matilda The Musical.”

A source close to Netflix told The Jewish Chronicle that the company condemns “antisemitism in all its forms” and is “committed to inclusion in our workplace and our storytelling, including in how we tell these stories going forward.”

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