Nostalgia is having a moment; it’s literally everywhere.
From fashion’s recent reincarnation of bell-bottom jeans and tassels to the proliferation of comfort foods, like grits and porridge, we are all still living in the past in 2015. Even BET’s airing of the “Soul Train” awards became a top trending topic on Twitter.
Hollywood and television networks are in on the action. Remakes of our favorite movies, like “Star Wars” and television new dramas like “Minority Report,” a spinoff of a major Hollywood film, are now the new normal.
Most recently, NBC announced a live showing of the classic 1974 Broadway-musical-turned-movie “The Wiz” to be aired Thursday, Dec. 3. The story line is a re-adaptation of the classic “The Wizard of Oz,” told from the perspective of black culture.
As a lover of the original movie, which was released in 1978 and featured prominent celebrities like Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, Richard Pryor, Nipsey Russel and Lena Horne, I have to admit, I was immediately skeptical.
Could the network capture the original essence of what the movie represented when I was a child? NBC has cleverly made sure to enlist well-known, credible entertainers, like Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Neyo and Common to add to the integrity of the production.
The network also released teasers of the actors in rehearsal, performing classics like the upbeat hit “Ease on Down the Road” and “Home,” sung by newcomer Shanice Williams and Broadway’s original “Dorothy,” Stephanie Mills.
What’s motivating our need to borrow from the past?
While there are likely a multitude of reasons, one central motivation could center on the basic need to return to times that felt safe and warm, times when we felt a larger sense of belonging. Today, the amount of negative news consumed in the media and online can influence and trigger many stressors and anxieties.
This year alone, the news has been plagued with negative stories, due to alleged racism, surrounding police shootings and profiling of blacks and shootings at black churches. There is also the ongoing terrorist attacks overseas and domestic terrorist threats.
Americans, especially black Americans, are actively searching for a way to turn off the negative news, even if only for an hour or two. For many, there is a clear need to find a way to reinstate some of the fundamental elements of black joy.
This is exactly why NBC’s re-production of “The Wiz” is right on time.
It is ironic to think that in 2015, going back to a time when inequality and discrimination were blatantly displayed ensures happiness. Still, the level of progress experienced between the 1960s and 1970s for African Americans was unprecedented.
Despite the fact it was a time of the tumultuous Civil Rights and Black Power movements, the era also marked the end of racial segregation and the start of integrated school systems. Additionally, several African Americans were elected into office, including Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman in Congress, who became the face of intersectionality shortly after the assassinations of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It was also the time that many of today’s black legends became cemented into the larger culture: Toni Morrison, Alex Haley, Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, Gladys Knight and the Pips and Sly and the Family Stone. And in a time of controversial Blaxploitation films, criticized for pushing stereotypical images, “The Wiz” became an instant symbol of positive black achievement and star power.
Today, feelings of progression and achievement can feel stalled, though many Americans believe they live in a mostly post-racial society. Taking a temporary hiatus from advocacy to celebrate a film about our universal love of home can be a much needed way to treat today’s overindulged, over stimulated American in the holiday season.