The Wiz Live

I did what I told myself not to do: I looked at the comments section.

Let me start from the beginning, ever since the moment I heard there was going to be a modern adaption of The Wiz, I've been stoked. I've only seen The Wiz once and it's been quite a while. I love music and I love The Wizard of Oz, it stands to reason that a Black musical version of The Wizard of Oz is bound to lure me in (yes, I'm also a fan of Wicked).

In the back of my mind, I knew people would come for The Wiz because of the "all Black cast"—I don't really see why IMDB needs that in the description, movies like Legally Blonde and Aloha don't say "all White cast"—but I didn't want to think about it, so I didn't. Then I did what I told myself not to do: I looked at the comments section... The number of comments that started with "if they made an all White version..." blew my mind.[5, 6] Have these people never seen the original Wizard of Oz? Have they never seen the original cast of Wicked? The moment I thought my brain would explode came when a commenter said "if they made an all White Roots, people would be mad." Now, I want to talk about movies and color (and The Wiz itself).  I'm diving this post into two parts: Part 1: The Wiz Live and Part 2: Movies and Color.

Part 1: The Wiz Live

Brief history: The Wiz is a musical based on L. Frank Baum's The Wizard of Oz (no it's not based on the 1939 movie starring Judy Garland) with an R&B/Soul vibe. Despite the uproar and from what I can remember, The Wiz is actually a closer adaptation to the novel than the 1939 movie. It started as a stage play in 1974, eventually making it to the big screen in 1978. The 1978 version features Diana Ross (as Dorothy), Michael Jackson (as Scarecrow), Lena Horne (as Glinda the Good Witch), and Richard Pryor (as the Wiz). Continuing the pattern of placing phenomenally talented (and/or famous) Black artists in the production, The Wiz Live features new comer Shanice Williams (as Dorothy), Elijah Kelley (as Scarecrow), Queen Latifah (as the Wiz), Uzo Aduba (as Glinda the Good Witch), Stephanie Mills (as Auntie Em—note she was also the original Dorothy), Mary J. Blige (as Evillene—the Wicked Witch of the West), Ne-Yo (as Tin-Man) and more.

The singing was phenomenal!

My honest review is that it was pretty darn good. I loved, loved, loved! Elijah Kelley as the Scarecrow. Not only is his voice phenomenal, but he brought the character alive. Unfortunately, since I had a long day yesterday I was too tired to stay awake for the whole show. Luckily, there's DVR so the rest of it is waiting for me when I get a minute. From what I saw, I can't wait to watch the rest!

Were there things I didn't like? Of course, though most of it is trivial. Nothing ruined the movie for me (at this point), and I've seen where others liked those touches. Personally, I didn't care too much for the tablet bit... if you have a tablet, shouldn't you have a cell phone too, at which point you could just call the Wiz? I guess they were trying to make it more modern, but that bit seemed a little silly to me. Not a big deal. I spent the first 20 minutes trying to figure out why Toto didn't come to Oz with Dorothy, but it finally hit me that trying to train a dog for a stage play would have been a disaster. What if he got distracted midway through the scene? Ran off the stage? Didn't run off the stage? The actors had enough to worry about without trying to keep track of a dog who wouldn't really know what was going on. Again, not a big deal. I also spent a good bit of time trying to figure out why they were reading the stage cues aloud. I finally Googled it and realized it was for the blind or visually impaired.  That's nice... It was quite distracting for the first hour; after that I'm not sure if it was me falling asleep that made it better or if I'd gotten use to it. Since, I'm only 1/2 through the movie, I can't really give a full-fledged review. However, I can reiterate that the singing was phenomenal! The backdrops were phenomenal. The stage make-up was also phenomenal. 

Part 2: Movies and Color

Hollywood has a bad reputation for its portrayal of minority characters, but this seems to be a unanimous case only in minority circles. There are still Whites who gripe about BET (which is owned by the White-owned and operated Viacom and shows about as many White people as a network like the CW, shows Black people) and any movie where Whites are not the majority. When Beyond the Lights came out, a White IMDB commenter was enraged that all the White people were "bad."[7] The commenter was deeply offended that none of the White characters were portrayed in a positive light. It was obvious to the commenter that his race was not shown favorably in that particular movie, but was it obvious to the commenter that this statement is true for minorities in 99% of the movies we see? Even movies created by Blacks (e.g. Friday) are wrought with stereotypes—don't get me wrong I like Friday, but it isn't exactly a "positive" portrayal of Blacks. Think about it, when is the last time you show a movie where the Black person wasn't a token character? When was the last time you saw an Asian guy in the role of "hot male lead?" An Indian character that wasn't awkward and nerdy? A Native-American character actually played by a Native-American? Hispanic characters not playing the "exotic female" or the hired help? I have to think really hard to answer those questions and an even harder time trying to name more than one movie for each question, but when it comes to Whites filling those roles, I can answer without batting an eyelash. Yet, almost every movie with a majority Black cast has lower ratings and comments with a disdain for the casting choices on IMDB, Twitter, and the like.

When The Hunger Games was released, people were upset that Rue, described as having dark skin in the books, would be played by Black actress Amandla Stenberg.[1, 2] There didn't appear to be any outrage that the olive skinned Katniss would be played by Jennifer Lawrence. Having read the book and seen the movie, I thought that while not matching the character description, Ms. Lawrence did a great job as Katniss, but in addition to matching the description, Ms. Stenberg was a perfect Rue.

When rumors surfaced that Idris Elba was in the running for James Bond (unfortunately this isn't even true, I would definitely pay to see Mr. Elba as James Bond), people were mad. People were mad that they cast a Black man as Johnny Storm in the latest iteration of Fantastic Four.[9, 10] Someone commented that in Disney's live action Cinderella (the one staring Lily James), having a Black man as the captain ruined the realism.[8] Really? Not the pumpkin being turned into a carriage or a lizard being turned into a man? You can suspend belief for magic, but not for a Black grand duke? Sticking with Cinderella, people were flabbergasted as to how a Black queen and White king could have an Asian prince in Roger and Hammerstein's Cinderella staring Brandy as Cinderella.  It seems as though the only time people are comfortable with minorities in film is when they are relegated to those token stereotypes in the shadow of the main character.

When The Wizard of Oz film aired in 1939, not only was it legal to exclude Blacks (or any other minorities) from production, we were also excluded from viewing the movie in theaters or forced to watch from the "colored" section. The Wiz was first performed in the 70s, when being Black was only just becoming something one could be proud of. Wicked, on the other hand, was first performed in 2003, so one would expect the original cast to be more diverse. The current cast has a few minority faces in the ensemble cast (i.e. the extras) and 2 named characters that are minorities, but the original stage production still had an all White main cast in 2003.[3, 4] There was no outrage.

One commenter tried to draw a parallel between recreating Roots with an all White cast to convince people The Wiz  was racist, but it only shows a lack of knowledge and prospective. Movies like Roots or The Great Debaters depict a specific reality of an era (or eras in the case of Roots). Roots, for those unfamiliar with the book or movie, is about the evolution of a Black family from being taken captive in Africa through enslavement in the South of the U.S., through post-civil war America and the Civil Rights movement, all the way to the 1970s (which was present day at the time of publication). The original book (and movie) include White characters throughout, whether they are likable or not. There really is no need to recast the movie with an all White cast, because Whites were never excluded from the cast in the first place. Moreover, the movie wouldn't make sense—you'd have to rewrite the entire premise of the plot. The book is about racism and the treatment of Blacks in the U.S., replacing the Blacks with Whites not only proves the point of the book, but fundamentally changes the purpose of the book. This isn't true about The Wizard of Oz; Dorothy's trip to Oz and subsequent adventures have nothing to do with her race. The plot loses nothing with a mixed race cast or an all Black cast. You see, something like The Wiz is not just about remaking a classic movie with Black faces, its about allowing a community of people to see themselves where they otherwise wouldn't.

In a perfect world, color and casting wouldn't matter—you could have all White movies and all Black movies without reproach because there would be a gazillion diverse movies to temper perspective. As it is, Black movies are either about slavery or surviving the hood (with very few exceptions) and Blacks in predominately White movies are always subservient to the White main character. If these roles weren't shaping our opinion of Whites and Blacks or how we fit into society based on color, there would be no outrage when suddenly Blacks are the main characters and Whites are the villains or when a Black child is the person you are to feel sorry for instead of a White child. If you weren't conditioned to think Blacks should always be the villain or that innocence is directly correlated to whiteness, you wouldn't notice these changes, you'd just see people. Could we mix things up like Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella and cast someone from every race without regard to the script? In some cases, perhaps. Personally, I don't see a problem with mono-racial movies and TV shows as long there is balance. Truthfully, when I go home, I go home to Black neighborhood. If I were to turn one of my weekends, vacations, or family reunions into a movie, it would be predominately Black (though I do have family that are not Black so it would never be all Black). Similarly, it doesn't strike me as odd that some circles are all or predominately White. That says more about the lingering segregation in America than anything else. The problem is when predominately or all White is promoted as normal and acceptable but anything else is trashed. That is by definition the mentality of White Supremacy. Why should it matter if fictional people, with purposes that have nothing to do with race, are cast without race taken into consideration?

References

  1. Holmes. Anna. "White Until Proven Black: Imagining Race in Hunger Games". The New Yorker. March 30, 2012
  2. Rosen, Christopher. "'Hunger Games' Racist Tweets: Fans Upset Because of Rue's Race". Huffington Post. March 26, 2012
  3. Wingfield, Garth. "Where Are They Now?: The Original Cast of 'Wicked'". NewYork.com. October 23, 2014
  4. "Wicked: Cast&Creative". Wicked; visited December 2015
  5. Neuenschwander, Andy. "These People Complaining About "The Wiz" Seem to Have Forgotten That "The Wizard of Oz" Exists". Buzzfeed. December 2, 2015
  6. bshilliday. "The Wiz Racist? Twitter Explodes In Furious Argument Over Show's All Black Cast". Hollywood Life. December 3, 2015
  7. "this movie whats you to hate white people". IMDB: Beyond the Lights (2014). February 7, 2015
  8. "Was the only reason for Captain to be black, because...". IMDB: Cinderella (2015) (I). August 5, 2015
  9. Holmes, Mannie. "Michael B. Jordan on 'Fantastic Four' Casting Backlash: I'll 'Shoulder All This Hate'". Variety. May 22, 2015
  10. Toro, Gabe. Michael B. Jordan Addresses Controversy Over Fantastic Four Casting". Cinema Blend. 2013
  11. The Wiz (1978)
  12. The Wiz Live (2015)
*IMDB Removed all Message Boards (maybe because of the racism spewing on them), therefore all links to comments witnessed there are broken.

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Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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