Now Streaming: THE WIZ, Ease on Down the Road
It's not really The Wizard of Oz, but this whimsical Black spin-off is certainly able to stand on its own two feet with such elegant vibrance that has resonated with audiences for over four decades.
Directed by Sidney Lumet, this wasn't really the hit that some thought that it would be. Released wide in October 1978 by Universal Studios it received mixed reviews and earned $22 million at the domestic box office, against a reported budget of $24 million, placing it at #22 in the domestic earners that year, far below top box-office musical Grease, which reportedly earned $188 million.
Rather than a direct reimagining of the Judy Garland-led film, The Wiz was adapted by writer Joel Schumacher from a Broadway musical, The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical "Wonderful Wizard of Oz", which, in turn, was adapted from L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the first book in Baum's Oz series, the source material for the 1939 film.
In the stage play, Dorothy is a teenager, living with her family on a farm in Kansas. In the film, Dorothy is portrayed by thirty-something Diana Ross as a 24-year-old school teacher living with her family in Harlem. (The idea didn't translate well for some people.)
Nevertheless, Ross certainly gives it her all in the film. After trying to save her dog Toto from a snowstorm, the two are swept away to the Land of Oz, inadvertently killing the Wicked Witch of the East.
Understandably, it has the same plot as the 1939 film but there is enough content, great
performances and cinematic flair to separate the two. The Wiz beneftis from its gifted cast and incredible production design. Looking at its lush art direction from Tony Walton and Phillip Rosenberg, it is very clear that they successfully combined the slums of New York with the magical Land of Oz with subtle ease that almost makes the locations look like real-life places that enchant audiences, even to this day.
As to the performances, Diana Ross and Nipsey Russell as Tin Man do some solid work in their roles, but the person that truly steals every scene is Michael Jackson's Scarecrow, who exudes a genuine charisma and energy that adds more to the splendor of this blaxploitation-era film. Ted Ross portrays the Lion, a role he originated on Broadway; he has an incredible singing voice, but at times, his performance seems overacted in comparison to the others.
Whether you love or hate this movie, there is no denying how memorable it truly is and how impactful it has been on the culture of Oz enthusiasts and Black cinema, alike.
The film is now streaming on Netflix.