Casting the Wrong Race

If you aren’t a big musical theater fan you may have never watched the musical The Wiz. The musical is an adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The main differences is the urbanization of the setting and the African American viewpoint, due to an all-Black cast. The Wiz has was a huge commercial hit on Broadway in 1975. A few years later, there was even a film adaptation made starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson, two of the biggest African American stars at the time.

Why is this important?

Well, last week on NBC, one of the biggest broadcasting channels, there was a revamped, live special called, The Wiz Live! If you didn’t watch, just know it was pretty amazing. Despite its success and overall good critical reviews, many people of this country have taken to their favorite social media sites to rant and rave about how displeased they were with, not just last week’s television special, but the whole concept behind The Wiz.

Many social media crusaders were confused as to why there was an all-Black cast. Tweets accusing the casting of being racist were thrown out. My personal response to all the backlash was simple: why are they so offended by watching a musical where all the lead characters are black?  The whole point of the 1975 production was to retell this great family story from a different perspective. At the time, there weren’t many African American productions being performed, so The Wiz provided a way for African Americans and other minorities to connect with Baum’s story like never before.

With that said, that doesn’t mean that only people of color can enjoy the musical or the film adaptations. In fact, The Wizard of Oz, the first film adaptation of Baum’s novel, included an all-white cast. I am not Caucasian, yet I still enjoy the movie. So what is the problem? They weren’t upset about an all-white cast. And it even goes beyond The Wiz. This past summer, Fantastic Four was met with criticism when Michael B. Jordan, an African American, was given the role of the Human Torch. Or look how people, once again, took to social media to say that, although actor Idris Elba was born in London, he isn’t “English” enough to be casted as the next 007.

A very important thing to keep in mind is that the movies and the play have nothing to do with race, and more importantly, they are all set in imaginary worlds. When was the last time you travelled to the Emerald City? Therefore, it shouldn’t matter what the race of the actors is if race clearly has nothing to do with the context of the movie or play. We should also remember that in 2015, it is still hard for actors of colors to get lead roles in mainstream films, which is one of the reasons there are still all-Black casts– they are not being casted anywhere else.

So, as someone who watches a lot of films, with casts of various races, whether mixed or exclusively one, there is still something for everyone to take from these movies. In no shape, form or fashion, is The Wiz, or any other all-Black production, trying to make White Americans feel excluded. If anything, they are trying to make a platform for themselves, since one was never initially offered to them. I think everyone in the social media world could use a bit more control before they throw terms like racist or ignorant. In any situation, we should always try to stop and see things from the other side, or at least try to understand. It’s almost 2016 and society should accept diverse casting for movies that expose people to more than just the mainstream American view.

If you haven’t seen The Wiz Live NBC has already announced an encore showing of the musical set for December 19th at 8pm.  Go ahead, let it be your guilty pleasure. 11.5 million other people already have.

Marcus Hatten
Marcus Hatten

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