Days after Netflix announced a massive deal with the estate of Roald Dahl, a UK Jewish communal group said Friday that the streaming service must also make a documentary that addresses the author’s “virulent” antisemitism.
“The virulent antisemitism of Roald Dahl is well-known, and has sadly marred the full enjoyment of his works for many Jewish (and other) people,” said Marie van der Zyl, the president of the Board of Deputies.
“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,” Van der Zyl said in the statement.
“Netflix should produce a documentary fully exploring the antisemitism that so tarnishes Dahl’s legacy. Failure to do so will not go unnoticed,” the statement read.
The video streaming giant said Wednesday that it acquired the Roald Dahl Story Co., which manages the rights to the author’s characters and stories. No financial terms were disclosed.
The deal paves the way for Netflix to bring all of the author’s back catalogue to screens.
The announcement of the deal came just a few months after the estate of Dahl issued a quiet apology for the “prejudiced” antisemitic positions the celebrated children’s author had regularly expressed, calling them “incomprehensible.”
“The Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company deeply apologize for the lasting and understandable hurt caused by some of Roald Dahl’s statements,” read a brief statement on the official Roald Dahl website that was not publicized to news outlets or Jewish groups.
“Those prejudiced remarks are incomprehensible to us and stand in marked contrast to the man we knew and to the values at the heart of Roald Dahl’s stories, which have positively impacted young people for generations,” the statement said.
In a statement to the UK’s Sunday Times on Sunday, the Dahl family explained: “Apologizing for the words of a much-loved grandparent is a challenging thing to do, but made more difficult when the words are so hurtful to an entire community.
“We loved Roald, but we passionately disagree with his antisemitic comments,’ they added.
The debate over Dahl’s antisemitic legacy hit mainstream Hollywood in 2016 upon the release of the Steven Spielberg version of “The BFG.” At a Cannes Film Festival press conference, the Jewish director said he “wasn’t aware of any of Roald Dahl’s personal stories” before shooting the movie.
“I was focused on the story [Dahl] wrote,” said Spielberg, the creator of “Schindler’s List” and founder of the Shoah Foundation. “I had no idea of anything that was purportedly assigned to him, that he might have said,” Spielberg told journalists in Cannes.
(For an in-depth report, see Matt Lebovic’s 2016 “Was beloved children’s author Roald Dahl a raging bigot?”)
Several instances in which Dahl describes himself as antisemitic have been reported, including a 1990 interview in UK’s The Independent a few months prior to his death.
“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. I think they should see both sides. It’s the same old thing: we all know about Jews and the rest of it,” he said.
He also made multiple comments that included anti-Jewish racism.
“There aren’t any non-Jewish publishers anywhere, they control the media – jolly clever thing to do – that’s why the president of the United States has to sell all this stuff to Israel,” said Dahl in 1990 in response to the Lebanon War.
In an interview with the New Statesman magazine in 1983, Dahl said: “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity… Even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”
Associated Press contributed to this report.