Surrender Dorothy

Anybody who has swallowed the scriptwriter’s notion that this is a film about the superiority of “home” to “away” … would do well to listen to the yearning in Judy Garland’s voice. What she expresses [in Over the Rainbow], what she embodies with the purity of an archetype, is the human dream of leaving, a dream at least as powerful as its countervailing dream of roots.

At the heart of The Wizard of Oz is a great tension between these two dreams; but as the music swells and that big, clean voice flies into the anguished longings of the song, can anyone doubt which message is the stronger?… Over the Rainbow is, or ought to be, the anthem of the world’s migrants, all those who go in search of the place “where the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.”

That, succinctly, is the “gay” sense of the film (a sense I can no longer contend is exclusive). Gay people often have to reject their families and find a new home, a new family for themselves. The bizarreness of Munchkinland, with its ballerina-pink Lullaby League and strutting, cow-licked Lollipop Guild — how like a child’s premonition of places like the Castro and Greenwich Village where gay identity would be distilled into colorful and at times shock-schlock public performances.

Without quite meaning to, Rushdie captures the way it feels to be a gay child in America when he unravels the actual message of the film:

The Wizard of Oz is a film whose driving force is the inadequacy of adults… and how the weakness of adults forces children to take control of their own destinies, and so, ironically, grow up themselves. The journey from Kansas to Oz is a rite of passage from a world in which Dorothy’s parent substitutes…are powerless to help her save her dog …into a world where the people are her own size and in which she is never, ever, treated as a child, but as a heroine…

Who could have thought a girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness, laments the Wicked Witch of the West as she melts … As the witch grows down, so Dorothy is seen to have grown up. This, in my view, is a much more satisfactory reason for her new-found power over the ruby slippers…

The weakness of Auntie Em and Uncle Henry in the face of Miss Gulch … leads Dorothy to think, childishly, of running away. … Later, however, when confronted by the weakness of the Wizard of Oz, she doesn’t run away, but goes into battle, first against the Witch, and then against the Wizard himself.


All of these Ozian forces came into play the night of the Stonewall Riots in 1969. Judy Garland had died five days earlier, and some of the rioters had waited in line, along with 21,000 others (my teenage self among them), to get into Campbell’s Funeral Home to view the star’s small, waif-like body lying on satin bedding. She wore a sparky silver lame gown, as befitted a gay icon, and her coffin was lined in tufted blue velvet.

As can happen in a fairytale, the winged monkeys took the form of New York cops on the night of the Stonewall riot

Emotions were running high that week, the night was humid, and when the police began corralling us out of the Stonewall, something just …snapped.

There were no more drag queens, no more Bridge & Tunnel kids, no more slumming East Side Aunties — we were all one, a community, united in grief, evicted out onto the sidewalk, with a sense that we had nothing left to lose.

Like Dorothy, we did battle, finally, with our version of the winged monkeys. As can happen in fairytales, they had taken another form, that of prosaic New York cops with sarcastic smirks on their faces.

And so the gay-rights movement was born.

E pluribus unum, Professor Marvel tells the fugitive Dorothy early in the film. As we will see later in Oz, it takes all kinds — a lion, a tin man and a scarecrow, the friends of Dorothy, in short — to get to the other side of the rainbow.