What The Wiz Taught My Children

It has been so long since I’ve been inspired to write a full blog post. So much has gone on this year and there’s so much I could have written about, but I managed to keep it to truncated Facebook posts and brief Twitter rants. But the one thing that has a way of inspiring my writing is Black excellence in art. Last night The Wiz Live aired and this morning I have so much to say about it.

The reprise of the 1975 musical play (and 1978 motion picture) did not disappoint. The cast was perfect. The dancing was dope and the music gave me chills. With powerhouse vocals from Amber Riley leading the way, we received 3 hours of straight up beautiful art. And with its (almost) all-Black cast, it was a cultural experience worth letting my kids stay up 3 hours past their bedtime to enjoy.

Now, if you know me, you know I don’t just give my kids something for nothing. I would have sent them to bed at 8 as usual had I not thought they could learn something valuable from watching a musical into the wee hours of the night. And I definitely would not let them watch it without spending the entire car ride to the sitter’s this morning discussing what they learned and how they felt. Here’s what they got out of it…..

Black people have a unique culture and it is important that we celebrate it.151124_2943548_The_Wiz_Live_
My daughter was about 4 the first time she watched a movie or TV show and asked me, “Why aren’t there any Black people in it?” My children are very aware of race in this world and it’s not by choice. People of color, people who grow up around people of color, are forced to look at the world thru a racial lens. When you’re the only X person in the room, you notice. When you turn on the TV and don’t see anyone who looks like you, you notice. My daughter was just sad that she didn’t see girls who looked like her in some of her favorite movies.

Last night was like magic for her. Multiple times throughout the night she made comments like “I love Black people so much.” “OMG her skin is so pretty.” “Look, mommy, her hair is curly like ours.” Representation is so important, especially for young people. They were both happy that they knew some of the dances performed (like the nae-nae) and understood the language that was used as well (“See what had happened was”). They could see and hear themselves in the characters.

This morning I asked if they knew why it was important to have things like The Wiz. I explained to them that many Black people couldn’t really get with the original Wizard of Oz because the music, the language, the dancing was just not a part of Black culture. There’s nothing wrong with it, but we have to acknowledge the beauty in our differences and make sure we get a chance to reach every group. I gave them the example of Romeo and Juliet. A story written in 16th century English that has been remade time and time again across many different cultures. The West Side Story’s and Romeo Must Die’s help everyone enjoy the same tale catered to their own cultural understanding. It’s truly beautiful.

Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With Being a Woman!

THE WIZ LIVE! -- Season: 2015 -- Pictured: Queen Latifah as The Wiz -- (Photo by: Paul Gilmore/NBC)
THE WIZ LIVE! — Season: 2015 — Pictured: Queen Latifah as The Wiz — (Photo by: Paul Gilmore/NBC)

For those who didn’t catch it, Queen Latifah played the Wiz. The people of OZ all believed her to be a man. We later discover that she was only posing as a man after throwing on the clothes of her former magician partner and never corrected anyone by revealing her true identity: the magician’s female assistant. Dorothy and company are angry when they discover the Wiz is not a wizard at all and therefore cannot help them solve their problems with magic.

While calling The Wiz out on all the things that were not true, the Scarecrow says, “And you’re a woman!” with incredulous distaste. To which Dorothy quickly responds with something like, “And what’s wrong with being a woman?” Although a very brief exchange it accomplishes so much. It shows that The Wiz’s gender is completely irrelevant to the point. She lied and deceived, but whether a man or a woman, that deceit is the same. It also shows how to be an ally. Dorothy was as pissed at the Wiz as anyone else, but she immediately put that anger on hold to check the Scarecrow on his misstep. #SisterHood

It is also important to note that all of the heroes of the story are women. Dorothy, Addapearle, Glinda and The Wiz are strong characters that show young girls that they don’t need a man to save them. In fact it was the men who were saved by them. Dorothy rallied her squad of misfits and encouraged them to seek their own peace, and The Wiz showed them what they searched for was inside of them all along. Girl power is so very awesome.

Black is beautiful no matter the shade.
The anger many white people showed about having an all-Black cast was funny for many reasons; I’m pretty sure I did see white people in the show, and The Wiz was created (40 years ago) in response to the all-white Wizard of Oz so their anger is a bit late. But what is also funny is that even an (almost) all-Black cast shows more diversity than one would think. The beauty of Blackness is that we come in so many colors, shapes and sizes. From Blake Griffen to Lupita Nyong’o and everywhere in between.nup-171901-1616-jpg

The Wiz showed so many beautiful shades of people. We were able to see people close to my son’s barely there complexion and as dark as our deeply melanated friends and relatives. The full spectrum of Blackness was represented and celebrated. And it was especially important that the two good witches were dark skinned and called beautiful. Everyone loves Lena Horne as Glinda in the motion picture, but having Uzo Abuda’s beautiful African feature shine was amazing. Not often are the good guys dark skinned. Even movies set in Africa show the kings and queens as light skinned (played by white actors mainly) and the slaves and bad guys as dark skinned. That affects children especially when they associate light with good and dark with bad. The Wiz throws that harmful idea out the window.

And lastly….

Black people and music go together like oxygen and life.
I don’t know what it is, but music is in our DNA. The singing and the dancing spoke to me so much. Everything sent chills thru me. It brings me so much joy when I see Black people live through music. The songs brought me to tears. and the dancing, my goodness the dancing. Between the sultry Poppies and the vogue scene in Emerald City I could barely resist getting up and twirling around my living room.

Overall The Wiz Live was exactly what I needed it to be for me and my children. It was a cultural masterpiece, a reflection of who we are, something to bond us with other Black folks as a family, and a work of art to inspire self-love and community.

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