Why “The Wiz” is so important for our Black Children
I watched along with the rest of black twitter and every cousin and friend as The Wiz aired on NBC. When The Wiz first came out (in 1978) us millennials were not even thought of. Diana Ross played Dorothy and Michael Jackson played the scarecrow. When the musical first came out in 1978 it didn’t do big numbers in theaters but in the black community it is regarded as a classic. I have watched this classic countless of times with my family, I know all of the songs and I even know the history behind the play. The thing about this classic was that it was something that fed my imagination, when I got a little older I latched onto Cinderella (the one where Brandy plays Cinderella). I remember when it aired on ABC it was the first time in history a black girl was Cinderella. And not only was Brandy Cinderella her fairy god mother was Whitney Houston!
I remember how I felt watching a black girl who looked just like me play Cinderella, I felt empowered, inspired, and most of all I felt like I could do anything. I’m sure a lot of black people use President Barack Obama as the stamp that black people can do anything, but for our children they look at who looks just like them for their stamp. In my childhood it was Brandy becoming a princess, when The Wiz first aired I’m sure for millions of black girls it was Diana Ross, and for black boys Michael Jackson. And last night watching Shanice Williams play Dorothy, I could only imagine the millions of little black girls and boys that found magic in Emerald City. How magical must it have been for them as they watched as the Tin Man, The Lion, The Scarecrow, and Dorothy ease on down the road to see The Wiz. For a couple of hours our black kids had their childhood.
Even if it were just for a few hours, our black children didn’t have to think about if their choice of clothing would somehow cause them their life. They weren’t listening to their parents talk about the latest news story in which someones child who looked a lot like them didn’t make it home because they were killed by police. Nobody had to explain to them the meaning behind the #blacklivesmatter hashtag. In those few hours our black children were kids. They danced along and you could see their faces light up when familiar dance moves were being showcased throughout The Wiz. Tonight was about magic, the magic that somehow our black kids have overlooked because of the harsh realities that they have to face daily.
They were able to see a beautiful black dark skinned woman descend from the sky and she was “The Good” witch. Every shade of black was on perfect display, none being pit against each other, because none of that exists when magic is in the air. It wasn’t about who had the biggest or the best, the theme was to never give up. Our black kids need more productions like The Wiz, they need more programming, and safe spaces where they can see themselves and be encouraged and inspired. Black excellence was on full display and it didn’t revolve around a reality television show where we were calling each other out of our names, this was good old fashioned black family television. Everyone young and old in your family could watch this musical and be included, we need more television that doesn’t divide the black family because of the content being displayed. The Wiz held my attention (I’m in my late twenties) and my nieces (and she is seven).
All of the parents watched and had to let us (young folk) know about the original play, they gave us the history and made their comparisons. They were schooling us, but it was in a good way, a way that creates a family memory, a way that makes your mom get up off the couch even after having a bad day at work to dance with you when beat to “Ease on down the road” dropped. We need more of that, our black children are growing up too fast, they need moments when its just about the magic of being a child and nothing else. Where they can be inspired and dream good dreams, the hard questions they can leave to the adults. Our black kids went to bed tonight with Emerald City on their minds the same way I went to bed (many moons ago) with the possibility of finding my prince charming and marrying him all because Brandy did when she played Cinderella. Bravo to everyone who took part in The Wiz, it was an amazing show…it was magic.