After watching Thursday night’s telecast of NBC’s The Wiz Live, I knew immediately that I needed to express the importance of this groundbreaking TV musical on not only a personal but political level. And it also killed in the ratings, drawing 11.5 million viewers. This week’s editorial was all about the need for children’s stories, like The Wiz to represent kids of all hues. Watch the clip and read the transcript below:
Movie-musicals have always been my refuge. For a few melodic hours, I could suspend and escape my reality and just surrender to perfect-pitch harmonies. One musical that deeply moved me growing up was the 1997 ABC TV movie Cinderella, starring Brandy Norwood as the title character.
With Whitney Houston as her Fairy Godmother and Whoopi Goldberg as her future mother-in-law, Brandy leapt over racial hurdles as the fairytale glass-slipper princess who was classically drawn by Disney with blonde hair, twinkling blue eyes and a fair complexion. With her braids and brown skin, Brandy was furthest from Disney’s fantasies but really really close and intimate to my reality.
As someone who grew up in front of the television, bombarded by images of girls who didn’t look like me, I was changed by the sight of this cast. Seeing oneself is an affirming moment but for kids of color this mirror is as rare as Cinderella’s glass slipper actually fitting.
We are all craving representation and deserve access to images reflecting us and it is why last night’s telecast of The Wiz Live on NBC, starring newcomer Shanice Wiliams surrounded by an all-black cast of talented actors, left me in tears. The Wiz felt like a gift to girls, to boys, to kids and young viewers of today.
Like Stephanie Mills and Diana Ross who eased on down the road before her, Shanice Williams shows every child that everything is possible because she is seen and centered.
Popular culture is most powerful, I believe, when it offers us a vision of how our society should look – or at the least represents our reality. The presence of Shanice and Brandy is not only powerful for viewers of color, but all of us, enabling us to see beyond the classically white default of childhood images. That is why it is revolutionary that stories unfold in all of our hues.
It is why Shonda Rhimes taking over ABC’s Thursday night lineup matters. It is why Mindy Kaling running her own show matters. It is why Gina Rodriguez’s award-winning turn on Jane the Virgin matters.
One of my most cherished pop cultural moments will always be that moment when Brandy’s Cinderella has her wishes beyond her harsh reality fulfilled by her Fairy Godmother, Whitney Houston. As Brandy sings about her dreams coming true, we, the young viewers of this post-racial fairytale also realize that we can become our dreams.
We realize that we are worthy of being seen. We realize that we deserve to be the protagonists of our own impossible stories. We realize that our experiences matter.
Glass slippers may be clear, but like Dorothy’s heels we exist in vivid color.
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