The Wiz is the most well known all-black version of an existing story. Although released in the 70’s, I wouldn’t exactly call it Blaxploitation. It’s another take on The Wonderful Wizard of Oz that originated as a Broadway musical. Something I really enjoyed when my High School did a production of it. The movie is a different story. I first saw The Wiz in Elementary School alongside The Wizard of Oz. I didn’t enjoy it as much I already enjoyed the original.
The problems stem from the differences between the play and movie. The play is essentially the same as the original. Only with black performers, funkier Motown music, and a few other minor changes. The movie was basically made to be more stereotypical. Instead of Kansas, Dorothy lives in Harlem. She and Toto are sucked up by a snow twister that takes them to Oz. The Munchkins are graffiti, Oz is a half run down New York, Taxi’s drive on the yellow brick road, and the Twin Towers are the Emerald City.
The most glaring change is replacing the young Stephanie Mills with 33 year old Diana Ross. She was way too old for the part and always looks like she’s on the verge of tears. She practically demanded to play the part in exchange for Michael Jackson’s involvement. He plays a garbage filled Scarecrow. Nipsey Russell for some reason plays the animatronic Tin Man. While Ted Ross reprises his role as the Cowardly Lion. When they remember to include the Wicked Witch, she runs a sweatshop. Followed by Richard Pryor’s Wiz. The Wiz drags on forever with endless song after endless song. Only “Ease on Down the Road” and a few others standout for me. The Wiz is better left on Broadway.