Movie-watchers still fondly remember ‘The Wizard of Oz’ as one of American culture’s most classic films, while most ignore its horrifying message.

'The Wizard of Oz' follows Dorothy on her journey to Oz as she and her friends seek the help of a powerful wizard.
The Wizard of Oz is a classic American tale, and Dorothy’s story still finds its way onto television sets today.
Image by Insomnia Cured Here

With the music, the costumes and the introduction of technicolor, the sheer pageantry of The Wizard of Oz has earned the film the love of the world. It’s been adapted into numerous other films and stage productions. The Wizard of Oz (1939) still gets referenced, imitated and parodied all the time in today’s popular culture. (I have Law and Order playing in the background and Mariska Hargitay said, “They’re not in Kansas anymore,” literally as I wrote that sentence. I can’t make this stuff up).

The Wizard of Oz cemented Judy Garland as a staple entertainer in every American home, then and now. But as portrayed in the 2019 critical-darling Judy, the legendary actress was frequently exploited by the entertainment industry. The Wizard of Oz was no different. 

The studio clipped her wings. Garland’s Dorothy goes on a death defying adventure. Dorothy killed two tyrannical witches. Dorothy liberated a town and the witch’s countless minions. Dorothy made new friends and helped them grow. Yet this powerful woman has her power stripped from her when she wakes up from a dream.

The Problem with the Dream Sequence Ending

MGM's The Wizard of Oz took a page out of Alice's book when they reveal Dorothy was only dreaming.
MGM’s The Wizard of Oz took a page out of Alice’s book when they reveal Dorothy was only dreaming.

Recently one of Movie Aroono’s writers dove into Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. She discussed the feminist narrative that Burton’s Alice in Wonderland embraced, oppose to the 1951 Disney animation. The 1951 Alice wakes up from a dream at the end of the movie, and her journey felt very dreamlike. She has no control over where the story takes her. Burton’s Alice was an active protagonist, she takes charge of her own destiny. And her story ended very differently.

Reading it, I couldn’t help but think about The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy is not a passive character. From the very beginning she is strong-willed; look at the way she goes to bat for Toto. She doesn’t cower in the face of adventure. The munchkins tell her the only way home is to find the Wizard of Oz, and she’s on that yellow brick road without hesitation. Judy Garland’s Dorothy should be a feminist icon, but instead she’s just a silly girl who had a funny dream.

The Wizard of Oz’s Horrible Message for American Women

Women in the workplace were sent home after the war, just like Dorothy in 'The Wizard of Oz."
The Wizard of Oz‘s Dorothy could have empowered American women, but did the opposite.

It was MGM that decided to make Dorothy’s adventure a dream sequence. When L. Frank Baum created ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ he wrote about Dorothy’s very real journey through a magical land. But in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy’s family tells her she just had a bad bump on the head, and laughs at her declaration that she’s returning from a life-changing journey. Then Dorothy quickly expresses relief that she’s home, and Dorothy tells them she’s, “Not leaving here ever, ever again.” 

The single greatest movie-heroine of the early 20th century, and what does she teach women? Stay in the home. And I’ll tell you why it’s worse than you think. 

The Wizard of Oz was released in 1939, just a month before the official start of World War II. By 1944, more than 19 million women were in the workforce, doing their part for the country. For the first time, women dominated the workforce, from factories and shipyards to baseball fields.

Then when the vets came back from war, the women were told to leave the factories and return home. And whose lead did they have to follow? Dorothy’s. Dorothy blazed the trail back home, or rather, a yellow brick road back to traditional gender roles.

Dorothy in MGM's The Wizard of Oz is essentially the Anti-Rosie
Dorothy in MGM’s The Wizard of Oz is essentially the Anti-Rosie.

Did we change the way you think about Dorothy, MGM or The Wizard of Oz? Join the Aroono community. Talk to us in the comments.