A Story About the Impact of Positive Representation on a Young Mind
As The Wiz was set to air via a remake 40 years after the debut of the stage play, seeing the conversations surrounding this has set off a series of thoughts in my head. The main one has been about what value positive black art could have to other minorities in America.
As a person of color living in the United States, finding positive representations of my people in media was pretty rare. I’d have better luck hunting down a gold ticket inside Wonka bars. The closest thing I got to positive representation as a Latino was Selena, a movie where a Puertorican from the Bronx plays a Mexican - American singer from Corpus Christi that STILL ends up getting shot dead due to a really shady situation. Everything else I ever saw as a child detailed the birth and rise of various Latino gangs through works like “Blood In, Blood Out”, “American Me” and a slew of other hood films that, while enjoyable, did more damage than good via the perpetuation of stereotypes that still plague our community today.
As I delved more into rap culture and black culture with the help of friends, I soon saw that things were sort of similar on their end. And then one day, I missed the hell out of a Wizard of Oz reference while playing the dozens with some friends. I admitted that I had never seen the movie and a wave of befuddlement swept over my group of friends.
“You’ve never seen that lil’ girl click her heels? No yellow brick road?? The fuck bro??”
And then my friend, Jay, stepped in to save the day. “Bro, I’ma do you one better. You gotta work on our project later anyway. My momma got The Wiz. You know she love Michael”
So it was set. I took my young self over to Jay’s house after school fully set to complete our biology project, completely unaware of what a Wiz was.
I had NO idea what I got myself into. His mom was a bonafide stan and this might have been the blackest experience of my early adolescent life. It was fucking magical, bruh. It was an all black cast reworking some white people stuff and adding enough flair to make the Chotchkie’s manager get a raging hard-on from happiness.
The film featured Diana Ross, Richard Pryor, Nipsey Russell, and Michael Jackson. Black Michael Jackson. No child molestation charges Michael. Pre-Off The Wall Michael. This shit lead to Thriller. 100x Platinum Thriller. My mind was blown. I had never seen or heard anything like it. No one got shot over drugs or money and the soundtrack was so good, I would’ve gave it all the fire emojis if it were possible then. It was a celebration of blackness. It was bold. It was amazing. It showed me that you didn’t have to accept the usual visual representations as the only representations. There’s nothing like that elation you feel when you see oppressed people succeed in such a manner.
I still have yet to see the actual Wizard of Oz. You can keep that shit.