The Wizard of Oz from 1939 is best known for its classic moments and unique songs that have left its mark on cinema. However, there has been one musical remake that has also stood the test of time which happens to be 1978’s The Wiz.
The story follows nearly the same plot as the 1939 film with a few changes. A young school teacher named Dorothy Gale (Diana Ross) is whisked away to the magical land of Oz after she goes after her dog Toto in a snowstorm. When she is deposited in the magical land, she inadvertently kills the Witch of the East and soon finds out that the only way to get back home is with the help of “The Wiz” (Richard Pryor).
The film, initially, received mixed reviews and was a box office disaster upon its release. However, it gained a cult following with many fans sparking a debate on whether or not it deserved the ridicule that critics gave it. Personally, it doesn't deserve the hate and here’s why.
The Wiz has some of the best staging in black theatre that has ever been put to the silver screen. Its magnificent sets are almost impossible to ignore and with each design being featured, it looks like it was hand-drawn by a top artist of 1978.
One of the most important aspects of a musical is the staging of said musical. The sets must allude and, furthermore, extend the story that it is trying to convey. The Wiz uses every bit of color and visual splendor that exemplifies the gobsmacking beauty of Sidney Lumet’s new iteration of an urban Oz. It warms my heart knowing that the filmmakers took liberties with the film rather than following the footprint of the original Oz movie.
Just like Judy Garland’s timeless classic from 1939, The Wiz has a tear-jerking theme of believing in yourself and finding out who the characters truly are in the movie. The film succumbs to a gut-wrenching finale when Dorothy sings of her home.
It makes for some of cinema’s most heartfelt moments seeing Diana Ross belt out her vocals in a teary-eyed manner and having her do it with nothing but her and a spotlight in the scene easily isolates her and her emotions thereby broadcasting it to fans' hearts. Thus, we have a musical that has resonated for nearly 45 years in cinema and stage.
In addition to its heart and sets, the film honors the elements of black culture from the 1970s with a disco beat and an ebony cast that qualifies for black excellence. It has the propensity for paying homage to black culture with R&B music, graffiti and jazzy elements that make it incredibly entertaining.
The real reason that the film has longevity is because of its ability to use African-American elements. It has stood out among other musicals and stood the test of time with its unique take on L. Frank Baum’s classic novel, which is why it’s the best black musical ever made.