Welcome to the Weekend Binge. Every Friday, we’ll suggest a binge-able title designed to keep you from getting too stir crazy. Check back throughout the weekend for even more gloriously queer entertainment.
The Richard Pryor Double Feature: Lady Sings the Blues & The Wiz
The 2018 revelation by singer Quincy Jones that actors Marlon Brando & Richard Pryor had a steamy, unapologetic love affair elicited a collective gasp from Hollywood. Though Pryor had supported LGBTQ rights and acknowledged his own penchant for performing fellatio, somehow, pop culture never seemed to count him as part of the queer community. Close friends and family of Prior have since revealed that he had no shame in acknowledging his bisexuality. Hey, better late than never…
As a salute to Pryor–one of the great comics of the 20th century–we offer up two examples of his fine work as a character actor. First up: Lady Sings the Blues, the Diana Ross-headlined 1972 biopic about queer singer Billie Holiday. The film does a good job condensing Holiday’s life and career into a two-hour runtime, and Ross gives a Hell of a great performance in the lead. For our money, though, the real surprise is Pryor, whose magnetic charisma allows him to do a lot with very little. Watching the movie today, we can’t help but feel a swell of sadness. Pryor actually had extraordinary gifts as an actor. That he didn’t get better parts in movies is really our loss.
For more proof of Pryor’s talent, look no further than The Wiz, in which he played the title role opposite (again) Diana Ross. Ok, so The Wiz–an urban retelling of The Wizard of Oz with an all-black cast–isn’t exactly a cinema classic. Despite the presence of Lena Horne, Nipsey Russell, and Michael Jackson (in his best screen outing), ugly set design, stiff direction, and a bonkers screenplay by Joel Schumacher make watching the movie a slog at times. Still, catchy music by Charlie Smalls, Luther Vandross, Timothy Graphenreed, Harold Wheeler, and George Faison as well as spirited performances give the movie more zest than it deserves. Pryor again gets to show off his acting skill as the inspiring, if withering, Wiz.
Richard Pryor always shined brightest on the stand-up stage. He could also command the screen…when given good material, anyway. How unfortunate that his filmography features more duds (Superman III anyone? The Toy?) than hits. For a hint at what could have been, and a testament to the remarkable talent of this one-of-a-kind performer, we recommend starting with this double feature. Both movies feature a gay icon in Ms. Ross, and hint at a much brighter career for Mr. Pryor.
Lady Sings the Blues streams on YouTube.
The Wiz streams on Amazon & YouTube.