MovieChat Forums > The Wiz (1978) Discussion > Am I the only one who finds it really ra...

Am I the only one who finds it really racist?


I dont think people would be happy if I decided to make films where the one rule is that EVERY SINGLE PERSON in the film HAD to be white!
There are dozens of films that seem to follow The Wiz's rule, and I feel pretty offended by it all. Its almost like the makers seems to be saying black people can only enjoy films with a black cast. We are not a different species!

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You're right. Race shouldn't matter in society, and we're all very much the same. Our differences are miniscule to the point of non-existence compared to that which we share.

But you have to look at "The Wiz" in a historical context...as a product of the 1970s.

In 1975, this was pretty much the first lavishly produced STAGE musical on Broadway that was primarily CREATED BY African-Americans: The composer/lyricist, producer, director, choreographer, costume designer, orchestrator, musical director, etc. There had been a number of Broadway musicals with all-black casts, but none this opulent or successful, for which the principal creative team were African-American.

In a way, this was what made "The Wiz" particulary significant in 1975, especially when it became the season's biggest hit, won all the major awards, ran successfully in New York for four years, on national tour even longer, and was patronized by BOTH black and white audiences.

The original stage production (which I was lucky enough to see four times...once in N.Y. and three times in L.A.) CELEBRATED African-American contributions to the larger American culture: musically, visually, and linguistically. It was a "translation" of Baum's story; not a spoof or satire.

When "The Wiz" was made into a film in '78 it was never intended to appeal ONLY to African-Americans. That is not how film studio executives operate. They want to attract the young, the old, families, seniors, blacks, whites, one-legged dyslexic Martians, and anyone else who can afford the price of a ticket.

Predictably, the principal talent BEHIND THE CAMERA of the film version were all white, with the exception of Quincy Jones and choreographer Louis Johnson. I contend that THIS MAY HAVE BEEN A MISTAKE, artistically. There were not very many African-American film directors in the '70s, and those who HAD made successful motion pictures (Gordon Parks and Michael Schultz, notably), never helmed anything nearly this large or expensive. They probably should have picked Geoffrey Holder or Gilbert Moses to direct the film (the directors of the original stage production) but studio executives are not widely noted for their records of risking HUGE sums on first-time filmmakers. [In '78, only "Superman" had a bigger budget.]

Compared to the stage production (and for lack of better words) my personal feeling is that the film somewhat lost the "warmth" and "love" and "electricity" that made the show a big enough hit to warrant a movie adaptation in the first place. Some will disagree. I think you just had to have seen both in their original forms to understand what I'm talking about.

I think your quote stating, "I dont think people would be happy if I decided to make films where the one rule is that EVERY SINGLE PERSON in the film HAD to be white" is not valid in a historic context. This was the rule for MANY DECADES. Thankfully this "all-white" rule doesn't hold up very well with contemporary-themed productions in 2008, but 30 years ago, and long before, this was STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE. If one saw an African-American in a starring role, or even a significant supporting role, it was notable.

When the MGM/Judy Garland production of "The Wizard Of Oz" was made in the late-30s, NOBODY considered casting Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, certainly one of the most revered dancers of his generation (and a much bigger star than Jack Haley or Ray Bolger, largely from his previous work in Shirley Temple vehicles), in the role of the Tinman or the Scarecrow. It was absolutely out of the question! Inconceivable! They would have been unable to exhibit this film anywhere in the South! There probably would have been picket lines, cross-burnings, and possibly worse!

There's American history involved here. Thirty years ago when "The Wiz" was first released, few would have believed that an African-American could be elected to the U.S. Presidency in the forseeable future. It's as interesting to view "The Wiz" in a historical context of popular culture in the 1970s as it is to view D.W. Griffith's "The Birth Of A Nation" in the context of 1914, Eugene O'Neill's play "The Emperor Jones" in the context of the 1920s, George Gershwin's opera "Porgy And Bess" in the context of the 1930s, Lorraine Hansbury's "A Rasin In The Sun" in the context of the 1950s, Stanley Kramer's "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner" in the context of the 1960s, and other selected successful works throughout the decades, that have examined American attitudes as they relate to African-Americans.

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[deleted]

to denbeez

That was awesome. Sometimes you just do the "Black" thing.

How many blacks were in "Elizabeth"? Did anyone protest...no! Just let it go. I never saw the stage play but I saw the movie and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I can't beleive that it reportedly "lost" $11 mil.

...conspiracy

-3 people can keep a secret, if 2 of them are dead

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[ NOBODY considered casting Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, certainly one of the most revered dancers of his generation (and a much bigger star than Jack Haley or Ray Bolger, largely from his previous work in Shirley Temple vehicles), in the role of the Tinman or the Scarecrow. It was absolutely out of the question! Inconceivable! They would have been unable to exhibit this film anywhere in the South! There probably would have been picket lines, cross-burnings, and possibly worse! ]

So were there protests when the films showing Bojangles dancing with Shirley Temple were shown in the south? Shirley Temple was as lily white as you can get. I'm sure they'd protest the two being together going by your way of thinking.

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^ "So were there protests when the films showing Bojangles dancing with Shirley Temple were shown in the south? Shirley Temple was as lily white as you can get. I'm sure they'd protest the two being together going by your way of thinking."
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Robinson made four pictures with Shirley Temple: "The Little Colonel," "The Littlest Rebel," "Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm," and "Just Around The Corner."

In each of these he played either a slave or a butler....some sort of subservient role. This WAS acceptable (if not "nostalgic") to southern audiences.

The characters of the Tinman, Scarecrow, and Lion are not Dorothy's "servants." They are on "equal footing," so to speak, with Dorothy and with one another. That's a VERY different relationship than we saw in the Temple/Robinson vehicles.

In the films of the 1930s about the only time you saw Black actors interacting with White actors on a (more-or-less) equal basis was in "Little Rascals" shorts. They were all just kids who shared the same misadventures, attended the same elementary schools, belonged to the same little clubs, and put on (ridiculously lavish) shows together. Otherwise Black characters were almost always depicted as servants of some description, or perhaps "specialty performers" like musicians and singers in nightclub scenes.

In the Kansas sequence of the MGM film we see the three farmhands (who later become the Scarecrow, Tinman, and Lion) working side-by-side as EQUALS. This ALONE would have caused outrage in 1939. In the final scene, the three farmhands hover in Dorothy's bedroom. Given the era I have sincere doubts that the Hays Office (the industry's precursor to the MPAA) would have allowed Robinson to appear such a scene.

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I just want to say I think your reply was thoughtful, well-constructed, very well-informed historically and an astute summation of why this film is not racist. Attitudes change. Even nowadays an all-black film of "The Wiz" wouldn't necessarily be racist, just as (to use the example below) an all-white version of "Elizabeth" wouldn't be racist. The two examples don't quite hold up since one film is based on history and the narrative would presumably be trying to adhere to fact as much as possible but still...Attitudes change. "The Wiz" came out during a sort of cultural black renaissance and there were all sorts of all-black or mostly-black TV shows, like "Good Times," "What's Happening!!" "Sounder," the blaxploitation flicks. This was after YEARS of systemic exclusion from the industry except for certain proscribed roles--the lazy/comic black (Stepin Fetchit), the soubrette/maid, then later on in the '60s, the noble black (Sidney Poitier). Finally in the '70s you started seeing a more rounded picture of the black experience--not just one token black in an all white movie/TV, but casts made entirely of blacks, so you could experience them as people living their lives, not just as The Black. The '70s trend of all-black movies, TV shows, etc. was a GOOD thing, it was a correction.

Ideally yes, we will ultimately become a post-racial society, meaning that race will not be as important (not that it doesn't exist. Race should exist, it's an important part of a person's identity). But when this movie came out, race was VERY important--it's ludicrous to claim this movie is "racist" because it has no white people in it, that's the POINT. And I say this as a white person!

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Well said, denbeez. I remember waiting for the 8th Ave. subway in NY before the play opened, and overhearing as a clique of men scoffed at the idea of an all-black version of "The Wizard of Oz," sniffing and snorting, their noses in the air, with a dismissive, "Why?" I laughed, because I had already seen the play in Philadelphia and knew it was great. I laughed again when it swept the Tony Awards. Geeze folks, HISTORICAL CONTEXT - it matters.

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I agree with everything you said except the idea that Bill Robinson could not have worked as Scarecrow or Tinman. I mean, he didn't have a romantic relationship with any of the characters. And Shirley Temple's films played in the South with him. And, not to sound crass, but Scarecrow was supposed to be "missing his brain." That would have fit in with the horrid "magical negro" trope.

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I think Robinson would have certainly, and perhaps brilliantly, "worked" as either the Scarecrow or the Tinman. But the fact that there was no romantic relationship with any of the characters is irrelevant.

In 1939 the big studios did not cast African-American actors in anything other than subservient roles. How many films can you cite from that era which portray a Black character as something other than a servant/butler/maid/elevator operator/chauffeur/train porter/doorman, gambler, or other individual of "questionable morality," or in the case of stories taking place during the American Civil War, a slave? (Even the glamorous Lena Horne's production numbers got excised in Southern states because her persona didn't fit one of these roles.)

The Scarecrow and Timan are on equal footing with Dorothy, the Lion, and each other, so casting Bill Robinson would never have been considered for a moment...not in '39.

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@deenbeez

Great posts---clearly a lot of people (including the OP,whose post is just plain damn idiotic to begin with) need to be schooled about the context in which THE WIZ was made in the first place,and apparently they need to be schooled about American history when it comes to black people in general. Thanks again for the info.

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But are you as offended when you see thousands of films with only white performers? Are the makers saying that white people can only enjoy films with a white cast?

A very long time ago I was working at a hotel; I was young, and to think about it today, what I said was real dumb. But I was earnest. I told this young gay white gentleman, that although I am black I don't read Ebony or Jet magazines because I thought seeking materials out that appeal to one group is racist. He opened my eyes when he deadpan-ed with, then how do you keep up with things unique to you?
I will always thank him for telling me that.

A bunch of red roses are beautiful, and a bunch of mixed wild flowers are beautiful too. It's all art. The colors are used to tell the story. the meaning would have changed had the film maker changed the cast to all white or mixed cast. Dorothy's 'over the rainbow' is Harlem of the 1970s, but In particular it is Dorothy's world. Even in Oz her intimates are from her neighborhood.

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your retarded! the wizard of oz was all white so was most of the movies for the 30s jeez

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Sometimes white racists just don't want to see black folks with anything.

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To see such an inciteful, well-thought-out post as denbeez's is very rare on IMDB these days. Just brilliant.

Then we were brought straight back with a completely idiotic, outdated statement by Labrynth, a person so obviously ill-informed he couldn't even spell his display name right (Labyrinth).

I applaud you denbeez. Labrynth you are what is holding back race relations in this day and age.

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Thanks for the compliment, eoingarvey5!

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OK--just HOW is this film racist??? It had an all black cast but does EVERYBODY behind the camera have to be black too??? Maybe I'm naive but I don't think it matters what color the people in front OR behind the camera are. As a white guy I loved the "The Wiz". I thought the songs were great, the settings incredible and all the singing and acting were on target. Yes, Ross was too old (and not that great) but it didn't destroy the movie. I view movies for what I see not the color of the person behind the camera. For example--lots of movies about gay men are made by str8 guys but I don't hear anyone screaming about that. Grow up people! "The Wiz" is NOT racist. Doesn't seem to matter nowadays--most people have forgotten about it and a good number of the cast are no longer with us (i.e. dead).

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Joel SHumocker from Natman forever Wrote the screenplay

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[deleted]

lol pretty much

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Well, in most movies every single character is white. Especially those from the 70's.

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I think you're *beep* mental.

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"I dont think people would be happy if I decided to make films where the one rule is that EVERY SINGLE PERSON in the film HAD to be white! "

Have you ever seen an American film made between the years 1915 and 1960? I'll make this easier - have you ever seen the original Wizard of Oz?

What's the Spanish for drunken bum?

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Have you ever seen an American film made between the years 1915 and 1960? I'll make this easier - have you ever seen the original Wizard of Oz?



things were different then,ever heard of martin luther king???







He was doing very well last night! Maybe someone around here gave him lessons!

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If MLK didn't die so we could have a black Wizard of Oz, I don't know what the hell he died for.

What's the Spanish for drunken bum?

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[deleted]

lol.

Apparently that's all America needs, the white version of something and then the black version of it. (example: Death at a Funeral)

I'm surprised we still don't consistently make mixed race cast films and tv shows. We have so much farther to go.

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[deleted]

Yeah Im sure some ppl would be angry, but any musical or movie itself reflects the time it was made. I'm actually glad The Wiz had a all black cast! It wouldn't have been the same if a white person was in it! The same goes for Purple Rain or The Color Purple. They were all great movies, I think its just ppl being stupid and prejudice. They love to live in the past, when all races werent suppose to be equal. Time to move on!! LOL.




And yes by the way Im white!

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First of all great post denbeez.

Though I think some people on here are confusing the idea that films which have an all white aren't necessarily done so with that intention, with films like this one which has obviously made a conscious decision to do so.

However in this film I think it is entirely plausable for this to be done from a none-racist stand point. As the main character as is mentioned in the film has never ventured very far from home at all, and lives no doubt in a predominantly black neighbourhood, and since we know that the whole series of events are cunjured up from the main characters imagination, it makes sense that the characters in it would be composed of people from her neighbourhood.

So no, I don't think this film is racist.

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