Brow Beat

Is the New Oz Movie Full of Needy Women?

Michelle Williams in the trailer for Oz: The Great and Powerful 


The new trailer for Sam Raimi’s upcoming film Oz: The Great and Powerful finally provides a glimpse of the ideas and plot behind this prequel to the original L. Frank Baum books. (The first trailer was not so forthcoming.) James Franco, who plays the hot-air-balloon-traveler-turned-wizard Oscar Diggs, encounters a colorful world—vaguely reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland—featuring munchkins, yellow brick roads, and witches both good and bad. Those witches—Theodora (Mila Kunis), her sister Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams)—are all hoping for one thing: that Oscar will be their savior.

“You are here at last, and the prophecy shall be fulfilled,” says one witch. “I’ve waited for you to come and set things right,” says another. Is Oz slipping into an old-fashioned story about women needing a great male savior? Why are all these women with their own supernatural powers waiting around for an ordinary guy to come along and save them all?

L. Frank Baum’s original Oz books were published during the peak of the suffragette movement, and they were quite progressive in their depictions of a young female hero. Dorothy Gale, who ultimately reveals the man behind the curtain as the fraud that he is, was inspired by pioneer women and has been championed by some as the “first feminist role model.” The 1939 film The Wizard of Oz stayed impressively true to this vision, giving us Judy Garland as an independent, curious young woman who aids a group of hapless men on their quest to see the wizard.

Happily, the few plot details that have been released about the new movie suggest that the witches may not be as helpless as they seem in the new trailer. They are reportedly skeptical of Oscar the interloper, and ultimately he is pitted against at least one of them. It will, in fact, be quite interesting to see just how the gender dynamics play out among the leading characters, without the 1939 film’s iconic young heroine.

And while the new film appears to take as its narrative focus the wizard’s origins in the mystical land, it does also feature three wonderful actresses, who will, I hope, bring more depth and complexity than what we have seen so far.