Kenya Barris, creator of the sitcom “Black-ish,” has big plans to make the upcoming Warner Bros. remake of The Wizard of Oz even gayer than the original. While many aspects of the 1939 film became oblique symbols for queer identity—the song “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” Judy Garland herself, the phrase “friend of Dorothy”—Barris has promised that the remake will be explicitly queer.
Barris was announced as writer and director for the project in August, but details have been scant beyond this. Later that month, he told Essence cryptically, “I know people feel like they know what we’re going to do, so I want to do something totally different. Not different for the sake of being different, but for really telling the story in a new, different way.”
Now we’re finally getting a clue as to the exact brand of “different” he is talking about. “The original was an allegory and a reflection of the way the world was at the time with things like the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl,” Barris explained to Variety.
“Now we’re going to turn a mirror on where we’re at right now and take disparate characters from the LGBTQ+ community, from different cultural communities and socioeconomic communities, and tell a story that reflects the world.”
This is not the first time the Wizard of Oz has been modernized to center communities excluded from the original film. 1978’s The Wiz (based on the 1974 Broadway musical) features an all-Black cast and reimagines the Land of Oz in a surreal version of contemporary New York. Although the film was panned upon release, it has earned renewed interest and cult status in the intervening years.
Could Barris offer the same kind of fundamental reimagining for queer audiences? It sounds like that’s his goal. And giving the next generation a more modern interpretation of such a common childhood touchstone is definitely worth the effort to try.
Incidentally, there is another Wizard of Oz remake in the works, this one directed by Nicole Kassell (Watchmen) and produced by New Line Cinema (who are also owned by Warner Bros). As production has not yet started on either film, there is no word yet on how they will be different.
As for Barris, he has high ambitions for his take on the iconic film. “I’m nervous,” Barris said. “Hopefully, my movie can last as long as the original does.” But, he added part jokingly, part ominously, “Hopefully my movie comes out.”