In our series The Movie That Made Me, Morning Shift talks to interesting people about the single movie that had the biggest impact on their life.
In this latest installment, host Jenn White talks to Glynn Washington, host of the public radio show Snap Judgment. The 1978 musical The Wiz is a re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz featuring an all-black cast. The movie blew Washington away as a 9-year-old and continues to do so to this day, even though he still questions a 30-something Diana Ross as Dorothy.
On how The Wiz made him
I remember seeing the Wiz for the first time, I believe I was seven, and seeing myself in it. I didn’t know that they were allowed to make movies full of black people. And already, I really loved The Wizard of Oz and to see The Wiz opened up possibilities. It seems like, in a lot of different ways, my entire artistic career has been chasing that movie.
On Michael Jackson as the scarecrow
This was back when he was still black. It was an amazing thing—with the nose and everything. I can still feel the goosebumps when the crows are dancing around him and he was on the stake, it was fantastic.
On Diana Ross as Dorothy
It’s what actually saves the movie from perfection. I love Diana Ross … but she should not have been Dorothy.
It’s funny now looking back and going: You did such a good thing here. You cast everybody perfect … and Dorothy, you mess up the lead character?
In retrospect, even that makes me smile, that you can still have a flawed masterpiece.
On recognizing himself in the movie
I just remember thinking: Richard Pryor is my uncle. This place is Detroit on a Saturday night. I know everything in here. I’ve always felt removed from modern culture, and this was modern culture that spoke to me.
I was living in the country—a very, very rural area. My nearest African American neighbors were probably hundreds of miles away. I didn’t have a regular connection with that aspect of my culture. I just remember floating after that movie.
On why someone should watch The Wiz today
It’s very difficult sometimes, I think for women and minority groups to see themselves clearly and powerfully writ large in our society. I think it’s especially important for children to know that they’re not necessarily a second rank player. They don’t have to be the best friend in this culture, this society, that there’s a place where you can be the star. That’s why I delighted in showing it—Diana Ross and all— to my own kids. I want them to see themselves as the star of their own story.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
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