Oz, the Ineffectual and Offensive: What Powerful Women Were Reduced To

by: Thaddeus Grabowy


Let us forget for a moment that the Oz movie is a prequel where nothing can happen (spoilers: Dorothy Gale kills the Wicked Witches).  I was willing to forget this and just enjoy a mediocre yet spectacular-looking popcorn flick.  But it turns out I can’t reward Hollywood for making one poor decision without rewarding an even worse one. I came across an interview with one of Oz’s producers, Joe Roth, in the Huffington Post in which he says something I have yet to fully comprehend. Mostly because it is incomprehensible:

When Mitchell starts talking about that man behind the curtain and how he got there, this storyline immediately strikes me as a great idea for a movie for a couple of reasons….And the second reason was — during the years that I spent running Walt Disney Studios — I learned about how hard it was to find a fairy tale with a good strong male protagonist. You’ve got your Sleeping Beauties, your Cinderellas and your Alices. But a fairy tale with a male protagonist is very hard to come by. But with the origin story of the Wizard of Oz, here was a fairy tale story with a natural male protagonist. Which is why I knew that this was an idea for a movie that was genuinely worth pursuing. 1

The first questionable aspect of this statement is his definition of the fairy tale genre. If Alice in Wonderland and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz are fairy tales then you’ve had the genre engulf children’s fantasy fiction which gives you more than enough male protagonists to work with. To use Disney’s own library as something he should be familiar with there’s Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Taran the Assistant Pigkeeper, Tarzan, and Quasimodo, to name five. Outside of Disney, but well within the expanded genre parameters, you might also include Harry Potter, Eragon, (half of) the Pevensie children, Percy Jackson, and any number of male protagonists that have made the jump from page to screen.

In fact I might even have grounds to make the assertion that the majority of media have male protagonists. Perhaps what makes The Wonderful Wizard of Oz “an idea for a movie…genuinely worth pursuing” is that it isn’t about a man? Is the story of a young girl freeing and befriending magical creatures in a magic land, not exciting or interesting enough? Why forgo the girl who defeats evil through friendship and strength of will for a man who capitalizes on the naiveté of others to enrich himself?

The answer may be that Oz is a prequel and Dorothy just doesn’t enter into the picture. Except Baum gave us four witches and MGM gave us three (well two and half since we only ever get the legs of Wicked Witch East) all of whom have actual power. But I suppose the Wizard being the “natural male protagonist” that he is infinitely more interesting than why there are three to four witches of great power who have divided Oz into factions and scheme to upset the balance of power in their favor.

Of course this is where the second questionable part of Roth’s vision comes into play. Perhaps the Wizard is an interesting character. After I built up these witches, surely a conman that manages to hold onto a city as glorious as the Emerald City against such women is a conman worth making a movie about! Except that apparently nobody else involved with this movie seemed to think that was true. The evidence for this lies in the characterization of the three witches of Oz; Oscar Diggs, the-not-actual Wizard succeeds because they are incompetent, petty, and stupid.

The worst offender is Theodora though it isn’t entirely Mila Kunis’s fault. Theodora meets Oscar and immediately declares him to be the Wizard fated to save Oz from the Wicked Witch since he has fulfilled the prophecy. Aka he fell out of the sky and calls himself Oz. After some flirting and a never-explored reference to witches not being popular with men, Theodora falls in love with Oscar and gets him to agree to marry her and make her his queen. Later, when Oscar flirts with her sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) and Glinda (Michelle Williams), it just breaks poor Theodora’s heart; so she removes it. This leads to some serious plastic surgery and the unfortunate adoption of a shrill cackle repeated ad nauseum. So Theodora’s first crush didn’t take her to prom and decided that instead of moving on with her life, she goes full homicidal maniac. Ah young love.

Glinda is almost as bad; despite Evanora and her actual army of Winkie soldiers and flying baboons killing people willy-nilly, including Glinda’s father, Glinda tells us killing is forbidden in Oz and none of her people will do it. That seems a rather onerous stretch in order to make Oscar the Wizard useful; there are plenty of Oz citizens killing in the source material. And while Glinda, unlike Theodora, knows Oscar is pretty awful and mostly useless he’s still exactly what a powerful witch who can fly and create force-fields that engulf cities in order to defeat the Wicked Witch. My secret wish is that actually, Glinda just needed someone to bone who wasn’t ridiculous looking and that’s the real reason Oscar came to Oz. Certainly she seems quite taken with a guy who not only is pretty small of character but also created another Wicked Witch.

Evanora is the least awful of the three Witches in that she isn’t stupid like her sister or strangely incompetent like Glinda. However, why she’s evil, why she suddenly becomes old and ugly when Glinda breaks her jewel (is she really Theodora’s sister?), and why no one seems to know she’s evil until she comes out and says it are questions never answered. I mean, if we’re to believe Glinda, killing is bad but you have this whole army spring up whose job is to do that and nobody questions that? And where does Evanora keep her flying baboons that everyone appears to believe the Wicked Witch Glinda is sending? It would seem that everyone in Oz is as stupid as Theodora who also somehow didn’t know her sister was evil, Glinda wasn’t, and maybe it was strange for a place to have an army when killing is so wrong that even to save themselves many people won’t do it.Why

The gall it takes to reduce these women to such ridiculous levels of dependency in order to build up a man is appalling. There had to have been a way to make a compelling movie about the Wizard of Oz that didn’t involve creating damsels in distress who couldn’t think their way out of a closet. But hey that might require some real work on part of Hollywood to conceive of women as people instead of sexual objects obsessed with beauty and men. Maybe the sequel will take up the story of Ozma, heir to the throne of Oz except instead of a girl disguised as a boy, she’ll just be a he because we have had enough of all those female protagonists.

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