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The Wiz Redux; or, Why Queer Black Feminist Spectatorship and Politically Engaged Popular Entertainment Continue to Matter

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 August 2019

Extract

I don't remember the very first time I watched The Wiz (1978). Growing up in a black household during the 1980s, the film was as much a part of my upbringing as the countless hours I spent removing my Jheri curl activator from the sofa, practicing the moonwalk, or listening to my mother and sister's annual Thanksgiving argument about how much salt should go into the collard greens. What I do remember is how much I enjoyed watching The Wiz. Each Thanksgiving Day my six sisters and I would gather around the television set and watch our heroine Dorothy (Diana Ross) travel from her aunt's Harlem apartment to the magical land of Oz. We celebrated the fact that Dorothy ultimately vanquishes her seemingly more powerful foe Evillene, the Wicked Witch of the West (Mabel King). As young black girls, we identified with Dorothy's plight. While we were not battling powerful witches, we were constantly resisting our mother's attempts to socialize us into “respectable” young women. As such, we were fascinated by Evillene, the most oppressive force within Dorothy's life. The gargantuan size of Evillene's body, the hideousness of her face, and the force of her supernatural powers both excited and repulsed us. We eagerly anticipated her first appearance in the film, bursting through the doors of her sweatshop belting, “Don't Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.” We reveled in drawing comparisons between Evillene and our mother, hoping that one day we too could defeat her.

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Articles
Copyright
Copyright © American Society for Theatre Research 2019 

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Footnotes

The author would like to thank Editor Marlis Schweitzer of Theatre Survey and the two anonymous reviewers for their generous feedback throughout the publication process.

References

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3. Ibid.; emphasis added.

4. For more information on The Wiz–themed vogue balls, see Ryan Crawford's, “Ball Culture Hitting Seattle with ‘Return of the Wiz’ Black Pride Event,” Seattle Gay Scene, 10 August 2018, http://seattlegayscene.com/2018/08/ball-culture-hitting-seattle-with-return-of-the-wiz-black-pride-event/ (accessed 15 January 2018).

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6. Ibid.

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10. Ibid., 115.

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23. Ibid.

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34. Quoted in Hatty Lee, “Three Black Female Playwrights Debut New York on Broadway,” Colorlines, 21 September 2011, www.colorlines.com/articles/3-black-female-playwrights-debut-new-work-broadway (accessed 16 January 2019).

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38. Ibid., 19–20, quote at 19.

39. Ibid., 20–1, quote at 21.

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44. Ibid., 108.

45. Ibid.

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48. Ibid.

49. Collins, 108.

50. For more information, see Moynihan, Daniel Patrick et al. , The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (Washington, DC: GPO, 1965), 30–4Google Scholar; Wallace, Michele, Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman (New York: Dial Press, 1978), 31–2Google Scholar.

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55. Ibid., 67.

56. Housing covenants were legally enforceable mandates for future buyers of property. Racially restrictive covenants were used to prevent African Americans and other minorities from purchasing, leasing, or occupying property in whites-only neighborhoods.

57. Lawrence, Tim, “Disco and Queering the Dance Floor,” Cultural Studies 25.2 (2011): 230–43Google Scholar, at 232.

58. Ibid., 240.

59. Amy Abugo Ongiri, Spectacular Blackness: The Cultural Politics of the Black Power Movement and the Search for a Black Aesthetic (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2010), 160.

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62. Ibid., 124–5, quote at 124.

63. Quoted in Alvin Klein, “Dorothy and Wiz Hip-Hop into the 90's,” New York Times, 7 February 1993. Brown noted that, in the revamped stage version, “Dorothy has more depth, Dorothy is less passive.”

64. Ibid.

65. Posner, 294.

66. The Wiz, directed by Sidney Lumet (prod. Motown Productions, dist. Universal Pictures, 1978; DVD, Universal City, CA: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, 2009). Subsequent citations of this film are to this DVD.

67. Bunch, 62.

68. R. Williams, 197, 196.

69. Lawrence, 231.

70. Ibid., 236, 231.

71. Sontag, Susan, “Notes on ‘Camp,’” in Against Interpretation and Other Essays (1966; repr., London: Penguin Books, 2009), 275–92Google Scholar, at 275.

72. Ibid., 276.

73. Robertson, Pamela, “What Makes the Feminist Camp?” in Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject: A Reader, ed. Cleto, Fabio (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999), 266–82Google Scholar, at 267.

74. In 2015 more than one hundred or 36 percent of unarmed people killed by police were black. Yet, black people constitute only 13 percent of the US population; “Mapping Police Violence: Unarmed Victims” at https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/unarmed (accessed 25 August 2017). These numbers later rose, with 149 reported cases in 2017 https://policeviolencereport.org/ (accessed 18 April 2019). For more information, visit “Mapping Police Violence” at https://mappingpoliceviolence.org/(accessed 25 August 2017).

75. The White Lives Matter movement argues that the US government's immigration and integration policies effectively undermines the proliferation of the white race. For more information, visit https://vk.com/whitelivesmatter or www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/white-lives-matter (both accessed 18 April 2019).

76. Bonnie Faller, “The Wiz Racist? Twitter Explodes in Furious Argument Over Show's All Black Cast,” Hollywood Life, 3 December 2015, http://hollywoodlife.com/2015/12/03/the-wiz-live-racist-all-black-cast-nbc-twitter/ (accessed 10 July 2017).

77. Quoted in Stack.

78. Melena Ryzik, “The Story Behind the Return of The Wiz,New York Times, 30 November 2015, www.nytimes.com/2015/12/01/arts/television/the-wiz-with-added-street-cred-heads-for-tv-and-broadway.html?mcubz=3 (accessed 24 July 2017).

79. Rick Kissell, “The Wiz Live Ratings Strong: NBC Musical Draws 11.5 Million Viewers,” Variety, 4 December 2015, http://variety.com/2015/tv/news/the-wiz-live-ratings-nbc-musical-1201653402/ (accessed 7 July 2017).

80. Rob Smith, “Five Reasons The Wiz Live Was the Gayest Thing on TV This Year,” Queerty*, 4 December 2015, www.queerty.com/five-reasons-the-wiz-live-was-the-gayest-thing-on-tv-this-year-20151204 (accessed 9 July 2017).

81. Robertson, 278.

82. The Wiz Live!, directed by Kenny Leon and Matthew Diamond (Universal City, CA: Universal Studios Home Entertainment, 2015). Subsequent citations of this production are to this DVD.

83. Emphasis added.

84. Adam Liptak, “Supreme Court Revives Transgender Ban for Military Service,” New York Times, 22 January 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/01/22/us/politics/transgender-ban-military-supreme-court.html (accessed 22 January 2019).

85. Zach Laws, “Mary J. Blige on Playing the Wicked Witch Evillene in The Wiz Live!” interview with Mary J. Blige, YouTube, 19 June 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIiwtZfL7nk (accessed 3 August 2017).

86. “Mary J. Blige Talks ‘Wiz’ Critics’ Choice Nomination,” E! News, YouTube, 20 January 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XDY-ZvAta0r (accessed 3 August 2017).

87. Laws.

88. Ibid.

89. Collins, 123.

90. For information on the black cultural expression of signifyin’, see Gates, Henry Louis Jr., The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1988)Google Scholar.

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