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The Wiz

Poster for The Wiz, 1978. Courtesy of Photofest.

The grandiose 1978 film The Wiz may be seen as the most ambitious project of Berry Gordy's career. A big-budget screen adaptation of the 1975 Broadway hit by the same name—itself an African American take on Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of OzThe Wiz featured an all-star cast including Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Lena Horne, Nipsey Russell, and Richard Pryor working under acclaimed director Sidney Lumet. The movie, like the play, was hailed as the first of its kind to feature a predominately African American cast. The Motown Productions version, however, was a dramatic departure from Baum's story; Diana Ross's Dorothy was now a Harlem schoolteacher and Oz a skyscraper-ringed New York City lookalike. Despite its unique premise, the film was received as a disappointment (its Jackson and Ross-dominated soundtrack notwithstanding) and failed to break even. The 34-year-old Ross, Gordy's second choice to play Dorothy, and Lumet, who made his career on hardnosed crime dramas such as Dog Day Afternoon, were considered poor fits for the film; nevertheless, it received four Academy Award nominations, including Best Original Score.

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