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The Wiz is an all-black version of The Wizard of Oz, starring Diana Ross, Michael Jackson Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, and Lena Horne.
Because of a limited budget, set designers made use of whatever was handy, using the decaying New York State pavilion from the 1964 New York World's Fair as the set for Munchkinland and the World Trade Center as the Emerald City. In his only motion picture appearance, Congressman Charles B. Rangel played Toto.
Motown acquired the rights to the successful Broadway show after a hasty bidding war with Disney, as part of a desperate attempt to make up for Song of the South. Berry Gordy, Dear Leader of Motown, immediately set about casting. At almost twice the age of Judy Garland, Gordy thought Diana Ross was too old for the part, luckily it turned out the producer was really the man behind the curtain. Michael Jackson pounced on the opportunity to live in a distant dreamland of brightly colored childhood make believe.
Plot, Setting, and Theme
In The Wiz, Dorothy is no longer a six year old; instead, she is a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher who is abducted off the streets of Manhattan by a torrential white blizzard; spiriting her away to the magical Land of Oz: a decaying, nightmarish, metropolis that resembles New York's inner city. The story is set among the sprawling ruins of the slums and ghettos, and suggests that one may succeed in spite of the odds against him or her by embracing life as it is, crackheads, sexually transmitted diseases, poverty, prostitutes, drunks, and all; just by singing a motivational self help seminar and dancing till your feet bleed.
In a rare consensus of opinion, both moviegoers and critics alike panned the film. A financial disaster, the movie lost $10 million and ended Hollywood Blacksploitation, driving a stake into the heart of Blackula once and for all. It also ended the careers of Diana Ross, Russell, Ted Ross, and Horne.
Despite, or perhaps because of, moviegoers' and critics' response to the film, the cinematographer, art director, costume designer, and music director drove down a road paved in Oscars at the 1978 Academy Awards ceremony.
- Diana Ross - Black Dorothy
- Michael Jackson - Blackcrow
- Nipsey Russell - The Black Man
- Ted Ross - The Black Lion
- Theresa Merritt - Auntie Black
- Lena Horne - Glinda the Black Witch
- Richard Pryor - The Black Wizard