We have been hearing for at least 10 years that one of our favorite black films, The Wiz, was going to be remade. Over time we heard varying stories about everything from casting (Usher as the Scarecrow, Busta Rhymes as the Cowardly Lion, Patti LaBelle as Eveline) to the exact type of remake that it would be. Those questions were finally answered when NBC announced that The Wiz would be the next installment in their Broadway Live series. Some people rejoiced. Others braced themselves and warned NBC not to fuck it up.
Last Thursday black folks all across the country got together and had viewing parties to watch this go down. Let’ just get the basics out of the way. This was the blackest thing that NBC has EVER aired. Amber Riley sang from her guts as if Jesus was gonna get down of the cross himself and slap her high five. Stephanie Mills can STILL sang the paint off the walls. I shaded the Scarecrow the entire time. Yes, I will willingly admit that in me he had his harshest critic. I pledge allegiance to Michael Jackson and his big ass fro. The day of the premier I actually vowed to walk out of the room during his performance of “You Can’t Win” and I broke that vow. I just didn’t dig him at all. Neyo surprised me with a great performance. One of the big winners was Fatima Robinson. I have been a fan of hers for years and the routines that she put together for this show blew everyone away. She promised that the dancers would do the Nay Nay and Hit The Quan and damned if she didn’t. According to the over night stats the most tweeted moment was when Neyo hit the Dab. That’s Hella Black. At one point Eveline’s slaves were stepping like they were Alphas. Hella damn black. Then there was the seduction of the Poppys. Them damn Poppys!!Lawd Jesus!!! That was black love and sensuality if I have ever seen it!
But really the only thing that we need to be talking about is the Emerald City. The blackest gayest thing that anyone has ever seen on tv. My friends and I were sitting there eating sweet potato pie seething because the director had chosen not to recreate the films dazzling Emerald City scene. A scene that sported at least 100 dancers plus props and lighting that changed from red to green to gold at the behest of a bellowing DJ over the loud speaker. We couldn’t figure out how you could possible top such an amazing scene.
Then the doors to Emerald City swung open and the dancers immediately struck a pose. When I tell you that all of our jaws dropped for about 30 seconds. They hit another pose and I yelled “Wayment! Are they voguing??” It was on after that. The Wiz had gone full on Paris is Burning in front of the world! I’m talking duck walking, posing, and sashaying all across that stage. Honey it was fierce! Was I at The Catch One in LA? Was this Atlanta? Or was it Houston? No it was Emerald City in the land of Oz. On NBC no less. One person dared the dance crew to hit a death drop right in the middle of the floor. Somewhere Pepper LaBeija, Paris Dupree, Angie Xtravaganza, Willie Ninja & Octavia Saint Laurant were all looking down and snapping in approval
Emerald City is the magical place where Queen Latifah is holding court as the Wizard of Oz. My first thought was of course Queen Latifah is the Wiz!!! Emerald City is the damn gay club! Not only was she The Wiz but she was the Wiz in drag! WHAT? I mean I saw the previews with her in obvious drag. But they took the drag storyline all the way by sticking consistently with the he/her/him pronouns and calling the Wiz sir. It got a little deeper when we discovered that the Wiz was actually a woman in drag that was stuck in Emerald City. The producers truly doubled down on their promise of bringing diversity to this large platform that they were given. As queer as Broadway is there is still an expectation for any type of black production that the “gay” element will be hidden in the background like that one lone white boy in the chorus line. The coolest part is that the average person doesn’t even know what happened. How many straight folks know the origins of voguing? Most folks know the dance from the Madonna video and that’s about it. They don’t know the history of the Balls and how they were a safe haven for gay people of color when many had been cast out of their homes. They donn’t know how the art form was about looking and feeling fabulous when the rest of society said you belonged in the gutter. They don’t know about the legendary children, the legends and most importantly the families that were created there. They don’t know that voguing is a celebration of being who you are. Voguing as an art form and expression fit perfectly into the story of The Wiz which is all about finding yourself and finding your home right inside of yourself. The courage, wisdom and heart that the characters were searching for, all of those are required to live as your authentic self. Emerald City is magical because you can dance, sing, be and be your fabulous black queer self in front of the world.
There were no major black gay characters or themes until this year when Empire came to FOX. Black queerness was always reserved for very special episodes. Or maybe sassy black gay male friend to some trendy wannabe diva. With the premier of Empire and also the additions of Miles and Milan on VH1’s Love & Hip Hop we were still being used for dramatic effect. Shows will take our flair, our lingo, our dances or our styles and then be content acting like we don’t deserve to be fully present on the screen. For me there was something incredibly special about watching the children show out in front of the world. It was the type of moment that we will certainly be taking about 10 years from now when we discuss the evolution of black queer images in television and movies.
The Wiz Live wasn’t just Black Excellence. It was Black Queer Excellence for us to all see and love.
Check out the video to see this fierceness for yourself and catch The Wiz Live when it airs again on Dec. 19th at 8pm.
featured image photo credit: The Huffington Post