From beginning to end this is a prime example of camp cinema. Everything from the acting to the dialogue and understandably to the fashion is completely over the top. If you pull out the scene of Diana Ross, having moved to Rome from Chicago, becoming a fashion model you would think that a pack of Broadway directors or even a couple of drag queens got together and came up with the wildest way to present this as possible. Also while watching Mahogany you can see where Dreamgirls director Bill Condon got his inspiration. This is all totally in Miss Diana Ross’s wheelhouse. She built a long and very successful career upon hair flips, pouty looks and dramatic acknowledging of applause from the crowd. The paper thin plot of this film does not demand too much of her nor drag her too far from the area she is comfortable in.
Living in the projects of Chicago is not something that Tracy Chambers (Diana Ross – The Wiz, Lady Sings the Blues) pictures for herself – not in the long term anyways. During the day she works as a secretary at a fashion house by night she attends fashion design classes. This is what she dreams of and is working towards. Tracy wants to become a fashion designer.
Just as she meets and impresses famous fashion photographer Sean McAvoy (Anthony Perkins – Psycho, Crimes of Passion) Tracy also meets local activist Brian Walker (Billy Dee Williams – Batman, Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back). As McAvoy offers her a career as a fashion model she falls in love with Walker. Torn between her ambitions and Walker’s campaign run as alderman, Tracy finally decides to be true to herself and moves to Rome to become a fashion model with the hopes of having her designs seen.
There is no mistaking who is the star of this film as the camera is rarely off of Diana Ross. And she revels in it. Comfortable as the centre of attention, she laps up all the attention. She acts, provided the Oscar winning theme song of the film (“Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)”) and even designed some of the dresses her character wears. That does not mean she matches the standards she had reached in her Oscar nominated turn in the film, Lady Sings the Blues. This is high camp rather than high art.
Most of the character are stereotypes – none more so that the one played by Billy Dee Williams. He is the black activist battling against the system. So wrapped up in his own career desires that he acts in a very patriarchal way towards the woman he loves – Tracy. Walker wants to fight against the man for those who do not have the economic means or the voice to do so, but is rather misogynistic in his desire that Tracy sublimate her own career ambitions to support his. There is also the stereotypical character of the fashion photographer played by Anthony Perkins who is not sure if he is gay or not. Progressive stuff this is not.
Kitsch is what you should expect from Berry Gordy’s film. You know this is going to be bad and yet you find yourself enjoying it at times. It really is just a film that has been constructed to allow Miss Diana Ross the screen time to look good. Nothing deeper is meant.
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