“Mahogany” is about Tracy, who’s from Chicago’s South Side. She works in a department store but dreams of becoming a fashion designer — she takes night classes and has a relative, who works in the garment industry, who makes her designs. Brian’s also from South Side, used to be a lawyer, and now is running for alderman (pretty unsuccessfully) on a platform of trying to help people hold onto their homes. Brian doesn’t respect Tracy’s aspirations of working in the fashion industry and Tracy doesn’t seem to much respect Brian’s political career and passion for keeping people in their homes.
Let’s pause right here for a minute. I sure wish the conversations between Tracy and Brian about the changing face of the South Side and the tensions between the two of them vis-a-vis staying versus moving up/out weren’t some of the most wooden, painful bits of dialogue in this movie. Because would i have watched a film about these 2 trying to work out their relationship while addressing the obvious class issues around them and the class tensions between them? Hell yes, whose blog do you think this is?
But the film’s not going to do that for you. No, “Mahogany” wants you to be content with a shoddily thrown together relationship and to somehow find it in your heart to root for these 2. Now i’m on record as having enjoyed the cute, flirtatious chemistry between Ross/Williams in their other film together. But that’s all Tracy and Brian have going for them. Otherwise, i cannot see any reason why they enjoy each other’s company let alone want to be a romantic item. Brian really doesn’t have any respect for Tracy’s career — doesn’t even seem to respect that she wants any career let alone a career in the fashion industry. He just keeps trying to drag her into helping him with his political campaign. Tracy seems genuinely bored with politics, and it’s understandable when she gets pissed off at Brian always demanding that she come to his events to play the part of the political wife even when she has other things she needs/wants to do.
Well, no wonder she runs off to Rome without saying good-bye to Brian the instant creepy ol’ Sean the fashion photographer summons her. Now, at first i was intrigued that Anthony Perkins was cast as Sean because he wasn’t coming off as any creepier than you’d expect a fashion photographer to be. But! Brian eventually goes to Rome to see Tracy and Sean pulls a gun on Brian during a party. When Tracy finally stumbles home from the party, she and Brian argue (again) about careers (again) and he flies back to the U.S. After the party Tracy and Sean clearly can’t stand each other and become very combative, and it’s also increasingly obvious that Sean is … well … psycho. He has no respect for Tracy’s desire to be a fashion designer either. Eventually, he throws her into a car, goes speeding onto a highway, insists on trying to photograph her while still stepping on the gas, and ultimately kills himself and gravely injures Tracy.
But why did Sean summon Tracy to Rome? Basically to be his next big model. He nicknames her … Mahogany. UGH. She becomes a superstar, which Sean loves, but which eventually grates on Tracy because no one is taking her designs seriously. She seems to find an ally with Carlotta, the woman who was the 1st person to book her as a model in Rome, and during a fashion show the 2 of them scheme to have Tracy wear one of her own designs instead of what the show assigned to her. This goes quite horribly until an older man, Christian, bids an outrageous sum for it. Probably you can see where this is going, but i’ll tell you anyway. After the accident with Sean, she winds up living at Christian’s villa as she recuperates. He also arranges, aided by Carlotta, to establish a fashion house to produce Tracy’s own designs. This culminates in a fashion show for Tracy’s designs — in fact, the scene the film opens on — which is a spectacular success.
Tracy seems to feel horribly empty during the show, however. And once back at villa for the night, Christian makes clear that when he spent that outrageous sum on her 1st design he had also very clearly intended to buy her. Fortunately, despite demanding that she have sex with him that night, he relents because she’s clearly miserable and instead arranges for her to fly back to Chicago in the morning.
Naturally, the film ends with a scene of Brian on an outdoor stage campaigning for his senate campaign (fail to get elected alderman, of course you should aim for senate next — i mean, you’re clearly on a roll), and in the middle of his speechifying you hear Tracy’s voice shouting/flirting at him with exactly the same script she did earlier in the film after their 1st breakup. He freaks out (but tries to remain cool, because, y’know, campaigning) because it’s obviously Tracy but he can’t see her. And eventually there’s a big romantic moment where they’re moving thru’ the crowd toward each other and blah blah, but he’s challenging her out loud in front of the entire crowd to use her talents toward his political campaign. So of course they embrace and kiss and the credits roll.
The meet-cute for Tracy and Brian is this. She comes home at 11pm after her night class to hear Brian shouting thru’ a bullhorn about housing. I agree with Tracy that this is not proper 11pm etiquette. So the next time she seems him, one afternoon several days later, shouting at people thru’ his bullhorn she takes the opportunity to prank him by pouring milk into the mouthpiece so when he picks it up to use it again he gets doused. Naturally, he blames the nearby white construction workers and starts a fight. He spends the night in jail and she bails him out with a bum $100 check. Andy assures me getting into fistfights is how people know they can trust you as a Chicago politician. Therefore i’m also assuming that getting someone thrown in jail overnight is standard South Side flirtation practice.
In conclusion, not even Diana Ross’s great hair can save this movie. I do think Ross and Williams had nice, flirty chemistry between them and am sorry they didn’t have a better film to explore it in.