In Search of Our Wiz (Reprise)

The other night, our family sat down to watch The Wiz.

I had never truly watched The Wiz. Now, before you get all indignant on me, I had a few good reasons. For starters, we did not own a television. I was still living in my native country of Dominica in the West Indies and by the time I arrived to the United States four years later, it was already out of theatres and off TV. Damn, I missed it! :)  Moreover, by all accounts, we were a West Indian family who did not make a big deal about being Black in America.  (That’s a different post for a different time.)  Now, here I am in 2012, at the age of forty, giddy with delight, about seeing The Wiz for the first time.

I was already familiar with the powerhouse that is Stephanie Mills and her unbridled performance of “Home” in the broadway musical of the same name, but what I didn’t know was that, this version was an adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, a musical fantasy film produced in 1939. Both were inspired by  L. Frank Baum’s children’s book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Rather than going into a retelling of the plot or story lines, I’d love to share some of what inspired me about The Wiz.

My first reaction, was simply, that this could not have been a remake.  It was a major production!  Replete with explosive choreography, musical talent, and top-shelf performers including Quincy Jones, Diana Ross, Nipsey Russell, Ted Ross, the fabulous Lena Horne, Michael Jackson, and Richard Pryor, The Wiz did not disappoint.  I even had to give Diana Ross some credit for bringing her own verve and passion to her rendition of “Home”.  Just when you thought her small frame of a body was going to blow over, she would dig deep and draw out what sounded like her own story. I’ve got to believe that playing Dorothy touched her on a very personal level. I’m sure there were critics, but for me, the show was supreme magic!”

Seeing The Wiz piqued my curiosity about the perceptions we have about access.

  • Who has the power to grant access?
  • Why do we ask for access?

Each and every time the main characters Dorothy, Tinman, Scarecrow, or Lion (aka Fleetwood Coupe de Ville) would try to catch a cab, the light atop the taxi would register an off-duty sign. Was that coincidence, or did this have a deeper meaning? I interpreted this symbolism as “Access Denied”.  Rather than being able to enjoy the comfort or convenience of getting a ride, Dorothy and her crew had to “ease on down the road” by foot…again, but only after they turned those cabs into props, and climbed and danced all over them!  It was as if Dorothy and her friends were saying, “We’ll make our own way, and create our own access”.  Suddenly, the song “Ease On Down the Road” took on a much bigger meaning for me than Michael Jackson, who sang it.  The silent protest in their actions definitely did not go unnoticed.  It’s interesting that even now, in 2012, so many of us find ourselves having to create our own avenues for access and easing down our own roads.

The Wiz was also a cautionary tale about not assigning too much value into Wiz characters.  The character of the Wiz, played by Richard Pryor, was no exception.  Behind the seemingly indestructible mask, he was a lonely, fraudulent man with a broken spirit.  He too, was hurt by life’s disappointments, and had his own personal limitations.  This Wiz had no clue about getting Dorothy home, much less getting anyone else a heart, brain, or courage. In fact, he wasn’t even able to commit to which color it would be for too long; changing it from green to red, then finally to gold. Such tomfoolery!

The main characters in The Wiz shared insecurities about their own worth and abilities, but in  their journey down the yellow brick road, they found a sense of community together.  By all appearances, the Tinman needed some mechanical work, but what he expressed was the need for a heart, so he would have the capacity to love and feel. Scarecrow wanted a brain or intellect, but what he seemed to lack was confidence and the belief in the credibility of his own ideas. The Lion, of all people, needed courage. Just as in life, it is the seemingly stronger people who lack courage. Underneath what seems  most impressive about them, physically or otherwise, lie real insecurities and hidden fears.

Dorothy just wanted to get back home. But where was home?  When Dorothy sang of home, she referred to a “…a place where there’s love overflowing…a place where there’s love and affection”.  Away from home, however, she learned of yet a different kind of love. She seemed to imply that “home” may insulate us from the real world, where love isn’t always unconditional or “overflowing”.  Though she still yearned for home, she emphasized the importance of finding home within ourselves and not so much in the physical places that we call home.

During my adolescence, I reminisced about my childhood home in Dominica. While there, the wingspan of my grandmother’s arms would protect me (and my sister) from storms, real or imagined. It was her covering of love that would shield me from the colder realities of my new environment called New York City.  Not having that in my new “home” made me feel displaced, insecure, and unsure.  In this unknown city of bright lights, taxicabs, and shysters, I would search for my Wiz. Unknowingly, some of these so-called Wiz characters preyed on my naïveté.  In my quest for belonging, they would do and say anything to make me feel “at home”, and I too, played a role in assigning them value that they neither earned nor deserved.

Much of my insecurity arose not from needing a Wiz, but from my own real fears about making the wrong choices, or taking the wrong path.  It took some difficult experiences and broken relationships along the way for me to learn that Life was less about making the wrong choices, and more about owning the consequences of those choices.  Releasing that fear of being wrong led me to that place called “home”, a metaphor for my happiness, which made searching for a Wiz absolutely irrelevant. Go figure!

Musical Inspiration:

-“Inner City Blues” (poem by Gil Scott Heron)

-“Home”, Stephanie Mills

-“Ease on Down the Road”, Michael Jackson

18 thoughts on “In Search of Our Wiz (Reprise)

  1. I missed Star Wars for the same reasons you missed The Wiz. Milan had this VHS on heavy rotation as a kid. It’s a great metaphor for life. We are The Wiz…give up false prophets, false friends, false lovers, etc. you are everything you need. Once we realize that we can be open to real relationships.

  2. Wow, I have seen The Wiz and The Wizard of Oz, (my favorite) many times and never looked at them that way. Everything we need in life we have within us; we just have to start believing in ourselves.

    • Like Tara Smith I’ve seen both the Wizard of Oz hundreds of times and the Wiz quite a few times but never really saw all that you saw in the wiz. I guess I need to watch it again. But I can relate to the Home part. I can’t go back to my childhood home, but I can make my home where I am by surrounding myself with my family which is home. Nice story.

      • Hello! Thanks for stopping by to read and comment. :)

        If you saw this film as a child, I am almost certain that you would not have had the same takeaways or insight. I know that I wouldn’t! :) As an adult, however, and in the context of experience and race relations in this country, it’s difficult to ignore the political statements that were written (explicitly or implicitly) into the story . I think there was certainly more relevance than just the cast being an all-Black one. It affected me on a personal level.

        I’m glad that you were able to relate to the concept of “Home” and what that means for you.

        Thanks for reading!

  3. I usually read your pieces here, but this one is too difficult for me to get through because of my state of mind. I did read your last three paragraphs. They made me remember something my ex said to me as he sat in a chair and cried a year or so before he finally split us up. He said, “I just want to go home, but I don’t know where that is.” I knew how he felt because I felt that way, too. What we made together physically and in our minds wasn’t home. I want to go home now, but it keeps pulling away like the proverbial carrot.

    • I’m sorry that this was a diffiult one for you, Ré. I sense the tug and pull behind your words. Though I’ve never “heard” your voice, I feel the weight of its whisper.

      This was also a difficult piece to write, as it is largely reflective and hugely personal. Home has been a fleeting concept for a good part of my life, and I’m certain as the sky is blue, that it will be challenged by more transitions, new circumstances, and movement. I had to come back and dig deeper because I felt that I owed it to myself and my readers, regardless of how difficult the exercise felt.

      I am praying for lighter days ahead, but in the meantime, I’m thankful that you were able to get through some of this post, enough to process your own personal memory, despite how difficult that may be. The awareness will be liberating.

  4. This was so great. I love your thought about owning the choices we make. I moved to several different places in New England in my 20s, and it was always painful. Instead of holding onto resentment and mistrust, I wish I had heard that idea: own my choices.
    Dominica and NYC, wow. I can’t imagine. Heck, we spent just a week in the Carribean and it was a shock to come back.

    And what timing! Just last night I was thinking, 2012 is when we as citizens have decided to make choices for the government. It’s too corrupt and time to take charge.

    • Amelie, no problem on commenting twice. I love it when folks feel like they can open up and share. I’ve come to really appreciate that about the blogging experience. I’m all ears! :)

      I am thrilled that you enjoyed “In Search of Our Wiz” and that there were some themes that resonated with you. Owning one’s own choices definitely helps to free us from the expectations that we have of others. Though it is painful when we’re wronged by someone else, or when what was once familiar is no longer part of our world as we know it, releasing the grip of broken relationships, “resentment and mistrust” (to which you so aptly referred) helps us to move forward in our own greatness, our own light.

      Secondly, the physical act of moving is arduous enough. Coupled with the desire to build new networks in unfamiliar places, it can be a stressful period no matter how strong we think we are. It is then that we feel the farthest away from “home” as we know it. We learn that we must forge ahead in new ways to create a home away from home; one that is just as authentically meaningful for us wherever we are at that point in life.

      Moving from Dominica to NYC has been the biggest shock of my life. A week in the Caribbean is never enough, but all good things come to a…pause. :)

  5. At some point during the end of my college days, every one of my 4 best friends moved all in the same summer. That was truly painful. I felt like I had been kicked out of a truck in the desert. Sorry to comment twice, this post just really struck me. I moved to several places and had trouble making friends, although I was lucky that the 2 of the places I rented often felt homey in some way.

  6. Well done, Av! How lucky you are to be able to see this for the first time as an adult and truly get the meaning of the film. I saw it as a little girl and to me it was just a toe tapping version of the “The Wizard of Oz”. After reading your blog, now I want to see it again so that I can truly appreciate the film and its messages. Well done! Well done! Well done!

    • Hey Tiff! Thanks for taking the time to read “In Search of Our Wiz”. LOL @ “toe-tapping”! I’m sure that you may even find some new insight, which of course, I’ll want to hear all about. :) The ability to see something anew is one of the many beauties of maturing.

  7. Great Post Avril, I absolutely must see The Wiz now! I have seen The Wizard of OZ so many times but missed The WIZ.

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