AFI Movie Club: THE WIZ – American Film Institute


AFI Movie Club: THE WIZ

THE WIZ, a reimagining of THE WIZARD OF OZ that updates the story to 1970s Harlem, features the talents of editor Dede Allen and music supervisor Quincy Jones – both AFI Honorary Degree recipients. 

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THE WIZ – Reelgood

Watch THE WIZ music supervisor and arranger Quincy Jones speak at AFI Commencement:

Movie Trivia About THE WIZ


THE WIZ is based on the 1975 Tony Award®-winning Broadway musical of the same name, with music and lyrics by Charlie Smalls and book by William F. Brown. The story is a reimagining of the 1939 MGM classic THE WIZARD OF OZ. 


The first run of the 1975 Broadway musical THE WIZ lasted over two years. It was the first high-budget, top-scale Broadway production to feature an all-Black cast and team of creators. Ted Ross and Mabel King reprised their roles for the screen as Lion and Evillene respectively.  


Twentieth Century Fox financed the Broadway run of THE WIZ at a cost of nearly $2 million, but the studio declined to make the film adaptation. When Motown and Universal acquired screen rights in 1979, the companies were required to pay Fox a sizable percentage of the film’s profits. 


THE WIZ marked Michael Jackson’s theatrical film debut. The movie introduced the singer to record producer Quincy Jones, who was inspired to produce Jackson’s 1979 hit record OFF THE WALL. 


John Badham was initially hired to direct, but he disagreed with producer Rob Cohen about updating the story to modern times. When Diana Ross was cast as Dorothy, Badham left the production because he wanted the character to remain authentic to its source material and be performed by a young girl. 


Director Sidney Lumet spearheaded the campaign to shoot in New York City. Astoria Studios in Queens – which was originally used for silent films – reopened its sound stages for THE WIZ. Local unions and city officials hoped it would lure filmmakers back to New York, and Lumet was eager to support their mission. 


With most of the film already finished, actor Richard Pryor arrived on set to perform his role as The Wiz. His “mask” was a 25-foot high silver head, complete with “laser-like” spotlights that accidentally damaged Diana Ross’ eyes. 


THE WIZ was filmed at Astoria Studios and on location throughout New York City, including the base of the World Trade Center, where the Emerald City sequences were performed, and the Astor Place subway station. Other scenes took place at Shea Stadium, Yankee Stadium and Coney Island. Wards Island Bridge was a location for the Yellow Brick Road. 


THE WIZ was released to criticism for its inflated budget, which increased from $10 million to more than $40 million. Although director Sidney Lumet disputed these numbers in the press, at the time THE WIZ was the most expensive movie produced in New York City to date. 


The premiere of THE WIZ marked the first time a feature film debut was officially hosted by the city of New York. Proceeds were donated to the Astoria Motion Picture and TV Foundation to further restore Astoria Studios. 


THE WIZ received four Academy Award® nominations – Best Art Direction, Best Costume Design, Best Cinematography and Best Song Score. 

Learn more at the AFI Catalog

The movie doesn’t end at the credits: Family-friendly Discussion Questions

Join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram now using #AFIMovieClub. Or post your responses in the comment section below.

-THE WIZ is a retelling of the 1939 classic THE WIZARD OF OZ and a screen adaptation of a Broadway musical. What are some of the differences you observe in the story and what are some similarities? Which version do you identify with most and why? 

– What challenges does Dorothy in THE WIZ face as she makes her way down the yellow brick road in the hope of returning home? 

-The Broadway musical THE WIZ broke new ground as the first production with both an all-Black cast and an entire team of African American creators. In addition, its story was the first to take place entirely after the Jim Crow era, a time in which Black Americans continued to be subjugated to oppressive segregation laws. However, the production crew for the movie was almost completely white. Do you think representation matters for those working behind the camera? Why or why not? 

-In THE WIZ, Dorothy is an outcast in her own family, but she is terrified to live independently. When transported to Oz, Dorothy gains the self-confidence to realize that the security she seeks is only found within, and she returns home empowered by all she learned. Why is it important for her to go home? How do her feelings and insecurities evolve throughout the film? 

-What does Dorothy learn in her journey down the yellow brick road? 

-The four main characters in THE WIZ – Dorothy, Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion – all wish to obtain qualities that they fear they don’t possess, and yet they all discover through their adventure that they already had what they needed all along. Meanwhile, the Wiz, who is a charlatan devoid of a moral compass, flaunts excess, greed and capitalism in the Emerald City. What does this dilemma represent about consumer culture, and how does this mindset reflect contemporary society? 

-How would you rate THE WIZ? 

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