The Biggity Blackest Moments of The Wiz Live and Why We Loved It So Much

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If you’re Black and you have a TV, then last night you were watching The Wiz Live with every other Black woman, man and child. We all know remakes aren’t always the best. Matter of fact, they’re oftentimes the worst. So I think we all held our breath, while truly wishing for the best, for last night’s live performance of The Wiz. Well, guess what? NBC didn’t disappoint. Well, if you were expecting Michael’s spirit to come down and possess little Elijah Kelley, then, you only have yourself to blame for feeling some kind of way. But if you came with an open mind about reminiscing over an iconic tradition in contemporary Black history while introducing a new generation to all of its glory, then I’m sure you experienced nothing short of joy for 2. 5 hours last night. Here’s our list of the top Blackest moments of last night’s performance of The Wiz:

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#11 Representation: When was the last time you saw a dark skin, full figured heroine/goddess on prime time television? When Shanice proclaimed “she’s so beautiful!” whilst Nigerian powerhouse Uzo Aduba floated on stage, I could have fainted. All body types, complexions, hair textures – even a Latina moment “no problema!” – graced that stage tonight. 

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#10 The Aesthetics: The Set, the costumes, the hairstyles… EVERYTHANG. Speaking of hairstyles, did y’all see that Basquiat throwback from the scarecrow? S/O to Morehouse student @hermesxos for pointing that out. Speaking of hairstyles, did you see those beards? My Twin Joan (Morgan), just turned me on to @postbadbeards recently. Who’s here for fine Black men in beards? All of us.

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#9 Blackspeak Everything from Mary yelling out something about Dorothy’s “skinny ass” to Neyo’s “mollywop” to Dorothy’s “conversate” the sound of Black American vernacular took me back to my grandma’s house circa ever year of my life.

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#8 The Choreography: Fatima Robinson put her FOOT in it. Geoffrey Holder has to be sitting somewhere smiling. While the main crew could have put in an extra step or two in their footwork…the range of choreographed genres gave the people what we wanted. Especially the millennials. From Nae-Nae’ing, the stilt walkers, the stepping, the Quan – pure Black genius.

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#7 Mary J. Blige: Who knew Mary could act? That’s the 411. She gave us mean. She gave us shade. She gave us 1992.

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#6 Black Queer Realness: There are no words. None. Wait, I lie. There are a few. WERK. SERVE. SLAY. Paris isn’t burning, it burned down and the Kids Showed Their A$$es. I was about to feel some kind of way about them not singing the Emerald City Sequence but I changed my mind after those few minutes of pure magic. I think Son of Baldwin said it best when he said “Oz being home to queer folk makes PERFECT sense.”

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#5  Those Sexy A…Poppies Period.

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#4 Orisha Representation Maybe it’s just me…after all, I am an Iyawo at the moment…but The Wiz was definitely giving me Orisa Realness. First, Amber Riley steps on stage with matriarchal everything in all blue, definitely giving us Yemaya energy. Then Queen Latifah comes through with the thunder and lightning like my daddy, King of Kings, Sango, KAWO KABIOSILE (BTW, Happy Sango’s Day everybody!). She even said “I got a throne room!”  Where they do that at? Somebody’s clearly been all up in Orisa 101. Then, Uzo, drops down from the clouds wrapped in golden swaddling threads and white boas bringing us home with Osun’s regality. I could even take it a bit further and attribute the bravado and maroon aesthetics of Evillene to Oya, the goddess of storms and the winds of change. Whether it was intentional or not, for people in the Ocha community, it looked like a Yoruba cosmological visual symphony.

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#3 The King Queen! Chile WHAT? I mean, I haven’t really genderbended since my tomboy days in highschool but can I be Queen Latifah’s understudy when the show goes to Broadway? Queen Latifah was EVERYTHING. And I do mean EVERYTHING. If I had to give an award for best performance, I think she got it. She was a whole MAN chile. Not a half of one, but a WHOLE one. And then she was a Miss again. And her skin. And her highlights. Just yes.

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#2 Crash Course in Intersectionality Feminism, Class, Race, Queerness it was all there. Discourse for us to engage, respond to, feel good, break down for our young ones and smile about.

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 #1 It was All Black Everything. With the exception of the David Bowie looking dude in Emerald City who could be from New Orleans for all we know…The Wiz Live was ALL BLACK. We finally got something.

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Despite not getting the memo to join a watch party somewhere, I was definitely not alone. I kept good company with every other Black person in America via Black Twitter. This production of The Wiz is going to be a historical intergenerational moment for Black families from now until infinity. While I was watching in Philadelphia, my parents were watching in New Orleans, my 6-year old niece in Chicago, my older brother and his family in Maryland. During commercial breaks, I facetimed the 6-year old, recapping this production in all of its glory. It was like talking to my good girlfriend on commercial breaks during Scandal. I asked if she remembers watching the original movie at my parents. She looked at me, made a face, in disbelief. She was only about two at the time so probably doesn’t recall wearing the dvd out to the point that it stopped working one day. Friends were retweeting their parents’ memories of seeing it on Broadway. People were reliving their own personal nostalgic moments. Considering the level of visual brutality and violence we’ve been subjected to incessantly, it felt amazing to indulge in uninterrupted Black joy for a moment, no matter how brief. I’ll be able to relive this moment with the 6-year old and all of you, for many moons to come. Thanks NBC for giving us the most wonderful night of Biggity Blackest television that we’ve experienced in a very long time.

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P.S. Shout out to David Alan Grier. The fact that he comes from that old school classical training was clear. I THOROUGHLY enjoyed his interpretation of the Mean Ole Lion. Probably the most nostalgic nod to the original production.

Shantrelle P. Lewis

5 Comments

  1. Since I am an older Black woman who has been through “The Wiz” movie & Broadway…I am thrilled with this production!
    My 3 grands were allowed to stay up to watch it. I made a DVD to share it again with my grands!
    So proud of this production! We did it y’all!

  2. I didn’t like this version. Too many straight hair wigs! The Black urge to be inclusive destroys our potency. This show was about black struggle, with the themes of fear, rejection, drugs, phony politicians…etc. This new spin on the Wiz seemed to infuse homosexuality into it. I get tired of this coupling- Black struggle and Homosexual struggle, they are two different battles. It is ok to show a man being a man and a woman being a woman. Overall I liked the old version much better with their beautiful AFRO-hair.

  3. I know I’m way late but I just wanted to weigh in. I saw the Broadway play in ’84 and the movie more times than I can count. The new version was not my cup of tea. I loved the attempt and the excitement about it but outside of Uzo, I was underwhelmed. There are so many other actors who would’ve killed it. It was disappointing that the producers went with names. Makes me sad that the kids of today didn’t get to enjoy the level of talent I did. That’s not to say that the cast wasn’t talented. I just think the casting didn’t do the work justice. The energy just felt low. Maybe my expectations were too high. When you experience the original, it’s hard not to compare. Still, I’m glad that it was such a powerful experience for you. I felt just as strongly about the cast I saw. 🙂

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