A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: Why One Scene Prompts Controversy Every Year
Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving special is a holiday staple, but one scene has stirred controversy about what message it’s really sending with Franklin.
Although perhaps not as beloved as its predecessors, A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the 1973 TV special A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving nevertheless is a holiday staple. In fact, except for not airing for a few years in the 1980s, it has become a Thanksgiving rite for generations — so much so that there was outcry in 2020 after Apple TV+ acquired the exclusive rights to classic Peanuts animated specials and new series. Fans want their Charlie Brown holiday traditions.
However, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving hasn’t been without controversy: In recent years, viewers have pointed out how, Franklin, the only Black character, is treated during the big feast.
Written by Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving first aired 1973, and was quickly cemented as another holiday classic alongside 1965’s A Charlie Brown Christmas and 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
Opening with the classic gag of Lucy van Pelt convincing Charlie Brown to kick the football and then pulling it away, the special centers on Charlie Brown organizing a Thanksgiving dinner for his friends before he leaves with his family for his grandmother’s. The plan originates with a call from Peppermint Patty, who’s all alone for Thanksgiving, but swiftly snowballs into something larger, when she invites Marcie and Franklin to a meal that, technically, isn’t happening. And so Charlie Brown and Linus spring into action, with the help of Snoopy and Woodstock, to cook a Thanksgiving feast. That’s where the controversy comes into play.
During the dinner the kids throw for themselves, Franklin, the only Black character in the Peanuts gang, is seated by himself on the opposite side of the table, in a beach chair, seemingly “segregated” from the other kids. Whether it was overt or accidental to put Franklin by himself isn’t clear. For those who feel uncomfortable with how the scene is depicted, it can feel anything but accidental. But the decision may not have been racially motivated.
Schulz’s widow, Jean, said her husband had to work to engage Franklin in his comics and stories because he didn’t have as many overt character quirks as the other kids. So, writing a scene where his chair breaks in the holiday special, giving Franklin a moment in the spotlight and a little action on-screen, works from a visual perspective if the gag is shown with a clear view – opposite the other kids. This is why the placement of Franklin is an easy way to visually animate the gag for viewers.
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Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving special is a holiday staple, but one scene has stirred controversy about what message it’s really sending with Franklin. Although perhaps not as beloved as its predecessors, A Charlie Brown Christmas and It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, the 1973 TV special A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving nevertheless is a holiday staple. In…