Do You Know Where You're Going To? Did You Check In With Your Man?
For many Black girls of my generation, Mahogany was our fantasy film. Of course it featured Diana Ross as a beautiful and talented Black seamstress who leaves Chicago for Rome and becomes a sensation as a model and fashion designer. Pre-pre-Naomi Campbell. Even pre-Iman. In fact, she was probably on the plane from Somalia on her way to New York when Mahogany premiered. Only one year prior to the film's 1975 release, Beverly Johnson became the first Black woman to make the cover of Vogue. In a world with no Oprahs, Halles, or Black Miss Americas, a Mahogany, even though she was fictional, resonated. Today as adults, we realize Mahogany lacks certain cinematic qualities, but who cares! I'm still waiting on the DVD.
Of course, Mahogany is The Black Love Story of the 1970s, the tale of Tracey a seamstress in Chicago's inner city whose inner diva is just dying to come out. She dreams of becoming a fashion designer and gets the chance of a lifetime to realize her dream when she is offered a job as a model by a world-renowned photographer who barely conceals that fact that he is a raging lunatic. But when she leaves for Rome and finds fame as a model, she learns that it's lonely at the top and she starts to miss home and her man Brian (played by the eternally fine Billy Dee Williams). Brian, unlike Tracey and her "frivolous" fashion designing ambitions has a real job. Well, sort of. He is an aspiring politician that wants to clean up the ghetto. The moral to the story was summed up by his now infamous line, still ominously invoked to this day: Success is NOTH-ING, without someone you love to share it with." Loosely translated: "Don't get all high and mighty and all mixed up with crazy white folk and get "too good" to come back home. "Home" of course being The Ghetto, home of all "real" Black people and genuine Blackness in general.
Nowadays, with stars of color being so commonplace in every form of media (despite a few glitches), some people may forget (or perhaps they never realized) that just a generation ago (okay, two generations ago), it was considered groundbreaking when Michael Jackson got airplay on MTV. Vanessa Williams made news around the world (and received death threats) when she became the first Black Miss America. There was no such thing as Britney vs. Christina or Beyonce vs. Ashanti. There was Madonna and Madonna. For black movies, one generally relied on the late, late show or a sleepy Sunday afternoon to catch Black movies. Therefore, if a Mahogany was being shown, you did not miss it. You popped some Jiffy Pop popcorn and stayed up late, way past Friday Night Videos and watched. I was the type of girl that poured over magazines and loved anything glamorous so I could relate to a character like Tracey, an ambitious black woman attracted to glamour, fame, power and creativity! Tracey's tiny apartment was filled with her sketches and she was always making new clothes and coming up with all kinds of new ideas, just like me! Today, a young black girl can admire Beyonce blinging or Halle Berry's Oscar, but Mahogany will always be my favorite Black Cinderella story. Can't wait for that DVD!