Mahogany (film)

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Movie poster by Bill Gold
illustrated by Bob Peak.
Directed byBerry Gordy
Produced byJack Ballard
Rob Cohen
Written byBob Merrill
John Byrum
Story byToni Amber
StarringDiana Ross
Billy Dee Williams
Jean-Pierre Aumont
Nina Foch
Beah Richards
Marisa Mell
Anthony Perkins
Music byMichael Masser
CinematographyDavid Watkin
Edited byPeter Zinner
Distributed byParamount Pictures
Release date
  • October 8, 1975 (1975-10-08)
Running time
109 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$3.5 million[1]
Box office$5,000,000 [2]

Mahogany is a 1975 American romantic drama film directed by Berry Gordy and produced by Motown Productions. The Motown founder Gordy took over the film direction after British filmmaker Tony Richardson was dismissed from the film. Mahogany stars Diana Ross as Tracy Chambers, a struggling fashion design student who rises to become a popular fashion designer in Rome. Fresh from the success of Lady Sings the Blues, this film served as Ross' follow-up feature film. It was released on October 8, 1975.


Tracy Chambers (Diana Ross) is an industrious young woman living on the South Side of Chicago, who dreams of becoming a fashion designer. She has worked her way up from salesgirl to secretary for and assistant to the head buyer at a luxury department store (modeled after, and filmed at, Marshall Field's on State Street, in Chicago).[3] Her supervisor at the department store, Miss Evans (Nina Foch), does not support Tracy's desire to be a designer, as she believes that Tracy's night fashion courses will interfere with her responsibilities at the store. She visits her aunt, a factory seamstress, with her designs to sew together for her and she visits buyers in the hopes that they will purchase her designs. There are no takers, but, they inadvertently encourage Tracy by stating that her designs are good for Paris, but, not Chicago.

One evening, while coming home from her art class, she is verbally challenged by Brian Walker (Billy Dee Williams), a local activist trying to make the neighborhood aware of the gentrification taking place in their community and attempting to drum up support for change. Tracy is tired and somewhat beleaguered by her circumstances. When Brian directly addresses her through the bullhorn as she walks past him, she then begins to exchange verbal slings with him. During the verbal exchange, an upstairs neighbor looks out his window and yells at Brian about making so much noise late at night while opening a can of beer and some of the foam falls on Tracy. Everyone laughs, except for Tracy who then, in a beer-soaked huff, heads up to her apartment.

Later, Sean McAvoy, a great fashion photographer, played by Anthony Perkins (based upon Richard Avedon, with whom Perkins studied for several months) comes to the department store to photograph models, all of whom are Caucasian, and with whom he is clearly dissatisfied. Tracy and Miss Evans arrive to observe him and attend to his needs. Sean mistakes Tracy for a new model, enthusiastically posing her around the shoot's set. Tracy praises his photographic skills. Miss Evans send Tracy away on a short errand and states that the session's client wants only Caucasian models for the shoot, annoying Sean and disappointing Tracy. Later, in the store's props department, Sean creates an impromptu shoot with Tracy, featuring the rainbow-colored gown made by her aunt. Miss Evans interrupts the shoot. As Sean prepares to leave Chicago, he invites Tracy to Rome.

Tracy, again, encounters Brian during her walk to work. She sees and hears him talking through a bullhorn while neighborhood buildings are being demolished. The construction workers attempt to antagonize Brian with thinly-veiled racist comments. However, Brian decides that he will not retaliate and continues to speak against the situation. When Brian places his bullhorn onto a table, Tracy sees her chance to get back at him for their previous encounter, and surreptitiously pours milk into its mouthpiece. When Brian picks it up, the milk splatters all over him. He assumes that one of the construction workers has played a prank on him and a huge fight begins. The police are called and Brian is arrested.

When Brian is released, he finds Tracy waiting for him outside the police station. She admits that she bailed him out of jail because poured the milk into the bullhorn. She also tells him that she has written a bum check for his bail, and they quickly leave the precinct. Brian promises to return her money to her, but, Tracy states that she is not interested in him and that she was only relieving her guilty conscience for the misunderstanding which put him in jail. He insists that he will return the money. She tells him to put it in her door's mail slot.

One night, Tracy hears many coins being dropped through her door's mail slot. She opens the door and finds Brian is in the hallway. They begin a relationship and Brian becomes her boyfriend. Their relationship includes her assisting in his unsuccessful run for district office. Following an argument in which Brian insists Tracy gives up her dreams for his, Tracy receives a call from Sean to come to Rome. She agrees to become his next muse.

Sean reinvents Tracy as "Mahogany" and, ultimately, she becomes among the most in-demand fashion models. An uneasy relationship develops with Sean, who is possessive and jealous of anyone vying for Tracy's attention. He struggles to control Tracy sexually and artistically by discouraging her attempts to break away from modeling and further her design aspirations. Tracy, feeling she owes Sean a great deal for bringing her into a world where she has wealth and fame, reluctantly agrees to sleep with him. Sean's implied latent homosexuality makes the union a failure. Sean goes on to menace and threaten Brian during his visit to Rome. Brian fails to persuade Tracy to return home with him to support him in his political aspirations. During their next photo shoot on an elevated highway in an expensive sports car, Sean causes an accident in which he's killed and Tracy sustain severe injuries. A new, wealthy benefactor, Count Christian Rosetti (Jean-Pierre Aumont), lends Tracy his villa for her recovery and a studio space in which may finally create her own fashion label.

Because of the tremendous job pressures, Tracy becomes demanding and cruel to her employees. She is unwilling to express her appreciation to her new benefactor by becoming his mistress. She finds her career emotionally empty and not what she dreamed it would be without Brian's love and support. Following the tremendous success of her first collection, Tracy realizes that she must decide whether to continue with her empty life in Rome or return to the man she loves in Chicago, and use her talents to boost his political prospects.


Theme song[edit]

The film and its soundtrack include a Ross-sung theme song, "Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You're Going To)", which became a #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1976. It held the number-one spot for one week (January 18–January 24, 1976), replacing "I Write the Songs" by Barry Manilow and replaced by "Love Rollercoaster" by the Ohio Players. "Theme from Mahogany", written by Michael Masser and Gerald Goffin and produced by Masser, was the best-reviewed element of Mahogany[citation needed] and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Song. The song was recorded by Mariah Carey in 1998 and by Sony Music labelmate Jennifer Lopez the following year.


The film received a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Original Song (Michael Masser, Gerry Goffin).

The film is recognized by the American Film Institute in this list:

Release and reception[edit]

Mahogany was released on VHS home video in the 1990s, and was issued on DVD on May 1, 2007.[citation needed]

The movie currently holds a 24% "Rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 17 critics.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Murphy, Mary (Jan 17, 1975). "MOVIE CALL SHEET: Gordy to Direct 'Mahogany'". Los Angeles Times. p. f18.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Mahogany and Marshall Field's
  4. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Songs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-08-05.
  5. ^ Mahogany on IMDb

External links[edit]