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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. The film resulted from a bet by its producer, Motown Records, that "anything whitey can do, blacks can do better."
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. Berry Gordy, Dear Leader of Motown, immediately set about casting. Jackson was given the role after he promised to forget about that one gambling debt, and Diana Ross was cast as Dorothy after extensively lobbing Gordy for the role.
Plot, Setting, and Theme
In The Wiz, Dorothy is no longer a pre-teen (or even a girl per se); instead, she is a 24-year-old kindergarten teacher who is abducted from her Manhattan classroom by a blizzard (representing the white power structure of racist, capitalistic America) and spirited away to the mysterious 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, with a song in one's heart.
In a rare consensus of opinion, both moviegoers and critics alike panned the film, agreeing that it was not only a waste of Motown talent, but also a waste of celluloid. A financial disaster, the movie lost $10 million and ended Hollywood's exploitation of blacks (known, in the industry, by the code name "blaxploitation" or "keeping the darkies down"). It also ended the careers of Diana Ross, Russell, Ted Ross, and Horne, and drove Jackson to further facial mutilations and an increased interest in "friendships" and "sleep overs" with pre-adolescent boys.
Despite, or perhaps because of, moviegoers' and critics' response to the film, the cinematographer, art director, costume designer, and music director were bashed over the head with 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
- Martin Lawrence - Big Momma (This scene was deleted.)
Despite the artistic and financial disaster of the film, Jackson is reportedly contemplating The Pizz, an all-male version that would spoof the original. In this parody, Jackson says, he would again play Dorothy, a transvestite, who journeys to "an enchanted world inhabited by Munchkin boys who delight in hot chocolate and stories at bedtime." The plot, the entertainer says, would center upon Dorothy's attempt to find "meaning and fulfillment in the arms of her admirers" and "could involve a trial, with The Wiz as judge."
Although Jackson refuses to divulge more of the plot, he did indicate that the movie would "end happily ever after, as is befitting a fairy tale," admits that he is "in discussions" with his lawyers concerning the legality of including nude scenes that feature young boys in the movie, and says that the movie will include new songs that he has written exclusively for the film, should he go through with his plans to produce, direct, star in, distribute, and promote it.
"Some [of the song] titles are 'The Joys of a Boy,' 'The Scarecrow's Pole,' 'What the Wiz Does Behind Closed Curtains,' 'Flying Phalli,' and 'There's No Place Like the Bedroom,'" adding, "My role in The Wiz, like my whole life, has been nothing more than preparation for this, the greatest, most meaningful, and most pleasurable project of my career."
Sadly, The Pizz will be unreleased because of the death of Michael Jackson. (This movie was supposed to be his comeback). But no fear...some of the scenes are used for his movie "This is Shit"!