Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
The other day, one of my co-workers and I were having a conversation that somehow led to movies starring Diana Ross. We talked about The Wiz and Lady Sings the Blues, one we hated and the other we thought well done. Then, my co-worker mentioned Mahogany and I realized that I couldn't quite remember having seen it. I knew the theme song and I remembered something about modeling and a car accident, but as far as the rest of the film, I couldn't remember it. When he offered to lend me a copy of the film, I thought, why not.
Directed by Barry Gordy and produced by Motown Productions, the 1975 film featured Diana Ross as Tracy Chambers, a woman with aspirations struggling to get by in Chicago. Tracy has dreams of becoming a designer and is going to night classes for design, but having aspirations doesn't pay the bills. Hard work does and Tracy has worked her way up from sales clerk to secretary to the head buyer (Nina Foch) at a luxury department store. Every night, she goes home to her apartment in the projects, hoping to escape it all someday and become a successful fashion designer.
At a rally outside her apartment, she meets Brian Walker (Billy Dee Williams), a young man who also has aspirations - political ones. He believes that the best way to help the people of his community is by becoming a politician and making the world aware of the problems existing for the poor in Chicago. At first, Tracy and Brian clash, but they eventually become lovers and Tracy uses her designing style to assist Brian in his campaign to become an Alderman.
It is during this time that Tracy also meets Sean (Anthony Perkins), a world-renowned fashion photographer who has agreed to do a photo shoot for the department store. While everyone else, including her own boyfriend, look at Tracy's dreams as either unattainable or unnecessary in the scheme of things, Sean sees talent and beauty. He eventually offers to take her to Rome and help her begin a career in modeling, advising her that this can be a stepping stone toward becoming a fashion designer.
Accepting the invitation, Tracy Chambers becomes known as Mahogany, an exciting new model and Sean's new obsession. But the longer Tracy remains in her new life as Mahogany, the more she realizes she is losing pieces of herself. Everyone seems to want things from her, including Sean, whose obsession borders on the insane. Tracy has achieved success, but, she soon learns that is success is nothing without someone you love to share it with.
Mahogany is listed as a romantic drama, but there are some comedic moments thrown in, mainly between Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams' characters. There is an ease with one another and a chemistry between Ross and Williams that lends credence to the affair between their characters. Anthony Perkins is no slouch in the obsessed psychotic role (remember Psycho?) and he does an interesting job here, one minute playing the professional photographer and the next playing the tortured soul longing for affection. That's about it as far as the acting goes. For the most part, those were the only performances worth mentioning.
The storyline was great and I loved the lessons to be learned here, usually taught by the socially aware and righteous Brian Walker. A proponent for change in the community, Brian wants to get higher in life to help others, whereas Tracy wants to get higher in life to get out of the slums. There is a drastic contrast in the two characters and, though she begrudgingly admits it Tracy does learn a thing or two about herself from Brian. Not only does she learn that it is important to have someone to share your successes with, she also learns that success can come with a price: if you aren't careful, you can lose yourself in the process. Brian remains true to himself and his values throughout the film while Tracy loses hers.
I love the theme song, Do You Know Where You're Going To, which perfectly represents the theme of the film and is beautifully performed by Diana Ross. My only complaint is that they played it too often throughout the film. I also was shocked to see how thin Diana Ross was in this movie, although, being a model in this era, she does fit the role of the stick-figure with the pretty face. She was definitely beautiful in this movie, just too thin, bordering on anorexic.
I learned something about Diana Ross while watching the credits as the film ended. I always knew she was a great singer and a decent actress, but I never knew how much talent she had as a designer. According to the credits of Mahogany, Diana Ross designed all of the costumes, presumably the ones she wore in photo shoots and the ones used during the fashion shows. Some excellent work there, proving Diana Ross to be a multi-gifted individual.
On the whole, Mahogany wasn't an amazing film that I would watch again and again. It was a typical film for the era with an atypical message. The film itself had its psychedelic moments as do most from the mid-70s and there were some less than believable moments, such as the fight scene. But I believe that the film's messages that are important here: hold on to your dreams, don't push everyone away in your rise to the top or you'll find yourself with no one to share your success with, don't sell your soul for fame, be true to yourself. These are important lessons learned and Mahogany expresses them well, despite some of the less than spectacular moments.