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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. Berry Gordy, Dear Leader of Motown, immediately set about casting. The talented young entertainer Michael Jackson was given the role of the Scarecrow, 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.
Adorable Judy Garland and crew may have skipped prettily down the yellow brick road, but Diane Ross, Jackson and crew eased on down the road in style! The film was innovative, artistic, and the music was a fabulous and inspiring mixture of soul, blues and funk! Although the movie did not fare well financially, it may have been produced ahead of is time. It remains a stunning piece of film history, replete with all of the royalty of African American musicians and actors of the time. ==Awards==
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 - Dorothy
- Michael Jackson - The Soulful Crow
- Nipsey Russell - The Tin Man
- Ted Ross - The Cowardly Lion
- Theresa Merritt - Auntie Emm
- Lena Horne - Glinda the Gorgeous and Good
- Richard Pryor - The Wizard
- Martin Lawrence - Big Momma (This scene was deleted.)