On its 40th anniversary, a look at how ‘The Wiz’ forever changed black culture

 

Gerrick D. Kennedy | Los Angeles Times

Forty years after its original release, no film has uniquely defined black culture and shaped the framework of a musical genre quite like “The Wiz.”

An adaptation of the groundbreaking Broadway musical — itself a retelling of L. Frank Baum’s classic 1900 children’s fantasy “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” that became the beloved Judy Garland movie — the Sidney Lumet-directed film had a rapturous soundtrack produced by Quincy Jones, a cast that included Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Lena Horne, Nipsey Russell, Mabel King and Richard Pryor and an aesthetic firmly rooted in black culture.

For a generation of black Americans, this was the first time they saw people who spoke, sung and moved the way they did in a Broadway production and, later, a big-screen musical, and it has become a kind of rite of passage for the black community.

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