The fashion rags-to-riches story is always potent for the celluloid treatment. It’s a Gatsby ‘American Dream’ trajectory that captures the complications our popular culture has with wealth and fame (Biggie said it best: “Mo Money, Mo Problems”).
In 1975, Diana Ross was at her Sasha Fierce zenith: an Oscar nomination for her turn as Billie Holiday in Lady Sings The Blues, the #1 hit “Touch Me In The Morning”, a duets album with Marvin Gaye. She was Motown’s reigning ‘Supreme’ Diva — the original Beyonce template, the “I’m Coming Out” gay icon, a halo of Medusa frizz with yes, that requisite off-kilter misbehavior (there has to be something to off-set the Mackie sequins).
Which is precisely why Mahogany stumbled as a semi-autobiographical rumination on black stardom: Miss Diana was allowed to overact the heightened version of herself. It was the first misstep of a ten-year-old brand: Time Magazine blamed director/Motown honcho Berry Gordy — who took over directing duties after firing British director Tony Richardson for misunderstanding the ‘black experience’ — for “squandering one of America’s most natural resources”. But just like you don’t watch Valley of the Dolls, Mommie Dearest and Showgirls with the oh-so-serious film theory approaches — you gotta delve into Mahogany with the explicit understanding that it’s camp with a fabulous wardrobe that has something rather profound to say about fashion and cultural/racial politics.