Kennedy notes that the adaptation of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” which began as a Broadway show, allowed many African Americans to finally see their worlds reflected in a fantastical story:
For a generation of Black Americans, this was the first time they saw people who spoke, sung and moved the way they did in a Broadway production and, later, a big-screen musical, and it has become a kind of rite of passage for the Black community.
Everyone remembers their first time experiencing “The Wiz.” If it’s the stage production, that likely came from performing it in high school or seeing a touring troupe tackle it, but the film is the most accessible entry into the all-Black retelling of “The Wizard of Oz.” Many of us recall watching it with family during the holidays, huddled around the TV and singing the tunes.
The writer adds that the film captured the social and cultural consciousness of post-Civil Rights Movement communities and paved the way for not only its stars, but future Black cultural icons:
“The Wiz” is foremost a story of racial liberation, and an early piece of Afrofuturism—the combination of science fiction, fantasy, magic realism and ancient African tradition that critiques historical events or envisions a Black future, inspiring such recent groundbreaking films as “Get Out” and “Black Panther”—but what has cemented its cult status is the music and movement seen onscreen.
Its dance numbers incorporated traditional movement from the African diaspora with ballet, jazz and modern movement that has defined Black dance—the “Emerald City Sequence” alone has informed everything from the Black queer ballroom scene to Beyoncé, and the music has shaped R&B for decades.
The original production launched the formidable Stephanie Mills (the original Dorothy, she lost the film role after Ross pulled a power play with the studio) to R&B stardom. It was the first time Jones collaborated with [Michael] Jackson, then a 19-year-old looking to break away from the Motown sound. “Off the Wall” was released 10 months after “The Wiz,” the album inspired by Jackson’s time in New York frequenting Studio 54 and getting exposed to percolating hip-hop scene during downtime from filming.
Watch a few key clips from the movie, then read more at LATimes.com.