The Couture Edition of Mahogany celebrates 40 years after the release of Diana Ross’s second appearance on the silver screen. After earning an Academy Award nomination for her depiction of Billie Holiday in Lady Sings the Blues, Ross goes on to portray Tracy Chambers, a secretary in Chicago who goes on to become a high fashion model and designer.
Colorful and fun, Ross brings the same energy to the screen that she does to her music. The role is about more than just beautiful dresses and the women who wear them. Politics, racial inequality, and poverty all drive the plot forward. Problems that have changed form but haven’t gone away. You only have to look at how Tracy’s career has to be jump-started by the ostentatious, white photographer Sean McAvoy (Anthony Perkins) before anyone in the business will take her designs seriously. While it may be the fire and excitement that Ross infuses into Tracy that eventually makes her a star, she has to be vouched for by the “appropriate” person before she can get into the door. And all it costs is her history, the man she could love who is trying to help her city (Billy Dee Williams), and bits of her soul.
Perfectly portrayed by Perkins, McAvoy is a dark, intensely troubled man who is constantly having to make up for being a gay man. His need to hold power over the people in his life reflects the struggles he has had to overcome. While the dialogue and the scenes aren’t anything overly spectacular, Perkins channels the struggles of being a closeted gay man into the role, giving it depth.
After 40 years, the camp classic is now repackaged for a new generation. The time may be different, but the themes remain the same. Ross, Perkins, and Williams combine to provide a snapshot of a time that is gone but still influencing the world we inhabit today. Race and sexuality are things that make us different from most of the people in power, but it doesn’t make us any less than them. Mahogany reminds us that we must be strong to achieve the things we want out of life, and we must also be true to ourselves about what we really want and what we are going to sacrifice to get there.
Available from Paramount Home Media (paramount.com). —Bradley Donalson