Last night, NBC premiered “The Wiz Live” on television. An adaptation of the original film, “The Wizard of Oz,” “The Wiz” was a film and Broadway play that featured an all black cast. 40 Years later and I have the exact same love for “The Wiz,” but now that I am older, my appreciation for the back story and lessons have grown. When I was younger, I just loved singing and dancing along to Michael Jackson and Diana Ross, but this time I was overwhelmed with emotion as the characters were coming into their true selves.
So, quick Cliff notes on “The Wiz,” Dorothy’s house is picked up in a tornado and lands in OZ on the Wicked Witch of the East. Her sister, the Good Witch of the North, is happy and tells Dorothy to find the Wizard of Oz to try to get back home. On her journey, she encounters a scarecrow, who wants a brain, a tin man, who wants a heart, and a lion, who wants courage. They all decide to go with Dorothy to ask the Wizard for what they want. When they get to the Wizard, he(she) tells them that they have to kill the Wicked Witch of the West first. They go and do that and come back to find the Wizard isn’t as mighty as they think, but just a regular person. The Good Witch of the North tells Dorothy to ask her sister, The Good With of the South, to get home. And she clicks her heels and is back home. The end.
So how is that inspirational? How did that musical about a bunch of witches, who are all related, and some weird characters have me bursting with pride? Because of the representation. This ALL BLACK CAST…let that sink in. ALL BLACK CAST! And talented, at that. They had me looking at my television in awe and pride. All shapes, sizes, and tones were showcased and highlighted. Natural hair was on front street! (I know yall saw the lion with his locs). It showed me that my people are absolutely beautiful, talented, wonderful, exuberant, joyful. We are so many things and it is simply amazing. It showed me the great side of being Black in such a world that continuously shows the negative. After day in and day out of seeing our people being killed and treated like dirt, it was a breath of fresh air to see this amazing show. The colors, the music, the dancing, the COSTUMES…it was all just beautifully refreshing.
With each scene and character, there were small hidden lessons behind them. Dorothy, who I like to see as a vigilante, has been whisked away from home and feels like she is lost. Her whole journey is to get back home because that is all she knows. She doesn’t realize that, while she is on this journey to get back home, she is doing amazing things. She is empowering others, freeing people, and sticking up for herself. She doesn’t realize that she had the ability to go home all this time because she didn’t need to go back there yet. She needed to go through that journey, in order, to learn more about herself and help those she did. How many of us have never tried anything new because we are trying to stay in our comfort zone? Too scared to leave “home” because it’s the only thing we know?
The Scarecrow feels that he is dumb because that is all everyone tells him. He thinks that he is nothing because he doesn’t know anything. In the end, the Wizard tells him that he does have a brain and the fact that he knows nothing means he knows a lot. This message hit me as an adult because so many of our people are told this. We grow up thinking we are less than what we are, so we believe it. We don’t think otherwise because why would we? If someone keeps telling you the same thing, over and over, you start to think it is true. Then, you start to rationalize it. The fact that the Scarecrow thinks he has no brains because he knows nothing is him trying to assure himself that everyone is right. This happens so much in our community and it often takes just one person showing the other that they are worthy for them to understand.
The Tinman, my favorite, wants a heart. He had a heart before he was turned into tin and wants to love again. Going through his journey, the Tinman doesn’t realize that he has had the ability to love all along. He continuously showed care towards Dorothy on their journey and made sure no harm came to her. In this situation, I feel like the Tinman is a lot of Black people. We are often taught to be hard and grow up tough. You may have loved once, but when you have been turned on, you become hard and never let that emotion come again. But, it is shown still in things that we do. Taking care of our children, being with friends, small daily activities that we probably overlook, but we still are showing love in some way. We may not see it as such, but it is still happening. So much pain has happened in the Black community and even though we SHOULD be hard with metal exteriors, we still show way to express love.
The Lion wants courage because well, he’s a lion. He feels like he should be this big, mean, daunting creature and he is the opposite. He doesn’t realize that he actually has courage but it is shown differently. This is powerful because we all have our own way of displaying things. We do not have to be the exact same. You don’t have to yell from the mountains that you are strong. You show it in ways that YOU want to.
“The Wiz” shows that Black people are more than what you think. We are a complex being. We are so much more than what is shown to the eye. Multi layered. “The Wiz Live” discussed gender roles(The Wizard was thought to be a man and was really a woman…WHO RUN THIS MUTHA?), had gay elements(Emerald City was LIT!), and also encouraged our people through chaos(Can You Feel A Brand New Day?) This is where the pride came in. In the end, this song is sung and everyone is in yellow and it is visually stimulating. You can’t help but to smile. Like I said, we are complex. We are a lot of things, but in it all we still see the light at the end of the tunnel. You can tear us down, you can try to defeat our spirit, but it is, and always will be, still there. That hope is the backbone of being Black. Nothing will kill our hope for a better day.