Review: THE WIZ (1978)

By Darin Skaggs

The Wiz is a remake of the 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz. In fact it is almost a beat for beat retelling of the classic tale. The only difference is it takes place in an apartment in Harlem instead of the country side of Kansas and is made of an all African-American cast. Filled with original songs and wonderful production design Sidney Lumet’s The Wiz both celebrates black culture and the musical to create an entertaining and fun movie.

Just like the 1939 classic Dorothy, this time played by Diana Ross, is a quiet young girl who has never been any where special. That is until a snow twister comes and takes Dorothy away to the land of Oz where she meets the Scarecrow (Michael Jackson), the Tin Man (Nipsey Russell) and Lion (Ted Ross). They all head off to the emerald city to find the Wiz so he can bring them home, a brain, a heart, the nerve, you know the drill. Through the way they run into many obstacles including Evilline (Mable King) the wicked witch who runs a sweat shop, a shop that literally produces sweat and The Wiz himself (Richard Pryor) who just turns out to be a lost, lonely guy who can’t even find his way on to an election ballot back home.

This is such a gorgeous, well created film. The production design is brilliant, tops the original head over heels by being original in its own right. It steals the plot points from the 1939 classic as well as Frank Baum’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The sets are something out a modern day fantasy tale mixing real life in downtown New York with the Oz we all became familiar with. The songs are really great, “Ease on Down the Road” is great, but the only problem with all of the creations is there are simply too many songs. The movie is well over the two hour mark and that is all because they use every song they can. There is not one in the bunch that is bad. They are not all great, but all well choreographed, the dancing is wonderful, but they could cut a few out.

This movie also celebrates black culture. It is an all black cast recreating the old classic. This is no Blaxploitation film, nothing wrong with that but this film is not screaming in your face that black people are winning on screen. It is merely just a celebration saying this is who we are as a community and we are proud. It could be seen as a movie just for the African-American community, but it is made well so all could enjoy it. The one problem with this is it was directed by Sidney Lumet, who is white. I don’t know why they didn’t just let a black director have their go at this, it could have been a shorter, more concentrated film or who knows, it could have been worse, but a hint of racism comes off when giving this celebration of a culture to someone not a part of it. Yet, The Wiz is a fun, fantastic musical that succeeds at not seeming like a pointless reboot, but a wonderful work of art.

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