Mahogany (1975): Berry Gordy’s Melodrama, Starring Diana Ross

Directed by Berry Gordy, Jr. as a vehicle for star Diana Ross, after her stunning Oscar nominated turn in The Lady Sings the Blues, Mahogany traces the life of a poor girl who makes it in the fashion world, first as a model, then as a designer.


Movie poster by Bill Gold

Ross plays Tracy Chambers, a Chicago woman who dreams of becoming a fashion designer. So far, she has worked her way up as assistant to the head buyer at luxury department store (modeled after and filmed at Marshall Fields on State Street).

The supervisor Miss Evans believes Tracy’s night school courses will interfere with her responsibilities. Her aunt, however, encourages her and visits prospective buyers.

One evening, she gets into a shouting match with Brian Walker, a local activist fighting against their community’s gentrification.

Things change when Sean McAvoy, a fashion photographer, comes to film models, all white and disappointing in other ways, He mistakes Tracy for a new model and creates an impromptu shoot with her rainbow-colored gown made by her aunt. As Sean prepares to leave Chicago, he invites Tracy to Rome.

Tracy reencounters Brian during walk to work–surreptitiously pouring milk into his bullhorn’s mouthpiece. Brian assumes the construction workers has played a prank and a fight begins.

Brian is arrested and Tracy bails him out. Brian becomes her boyfriend, but the relationship does not last long as Brian does not support Tracy’s aspirations.

Sean reinvents Tracy as “Mahogany,” turning her into a desirable fashion model.  However, he’s possessive and jealous of anyone vying for Tracy’s attention, which includes Brian.  Tracy, feeling obligated, reluctantly agrees to sleep with him. However, Sean’s latent homosexuality makes the union a failure.

Meanwhile, Brian fails to persuade Tracy to return home with him to support him in his political aspirations.

During their next photo shoot on a highway in expensive sports car, Sean causes an accident in which he’s killed and Tracy is injured.

The new benefactor Count Christian Rosetti lends Tracy his villa for recovery and studio space for her own fashion label. Job pressures cause Tracy to become cruelly demanding to her employees.

Unwilling to express appreciation by becoming his mistress, she finds her career emotionally empty. After the success of her first collection, Tracy must decide whether to continue her empty life in Rome or return to the man she loves in Chicago, and help  boosting his political prospects.

Berry Gordy took over helming after the original director, Tony Richardson, was fired.

The cast also includes Bea Richards, Nina Foch, Jean–Pierre Aumont.

The failure of this picture began to signal the decline of the screen career of Diana Ross, who would make an all-black musical, The Wiz, in 1978, also a flop.

Oscar Context:

The song “Do You Know When You’re Going To” (Gerry Goffin/Michael Masser) was Oscar-nominated.

The winner was Keith Carradine, for ”I’m Easy,” from Robert Altman’s movie, Nashville.


Diana Ross as Tracy Chambers
Billy Dee Williams as Brian Walker
Anthony Perkins as Sean McAvoy
Jean-Pierre Aumont as Count Christian Rosetti
Beah Richards as Florence
Nina Foch as Miss Evans
Marisa Mell as Carlotta Gavina
Lenard Norris as Wil
Jerome Arnold as Campaign Worker
Pemon Rami as Campaign Worker
Obelo as Campaign Worker
Ira Rogers as Stalker
Kristine Cameron as Instructress
Ted Liss as Sweatshop Foreman
Bruce Vilanch as Dress Manufacturer
Don Howard as Dress Manufacturer
Albert Rosenberg as Dress Manufacturer
Marvin Corman as Cab Driver
E. Rodney Jones as Radio Announcer (voice)
Dan Daniel as Giuseppe (as Daniel Daniele)
Princess Irene Galitzine as herself
Jacques Stany as Auctioneer – Fashion Show


Directed by Berry Gordy
Written by Bob Merrill, John Byrum; story by Toni Amber
Produced by Jack Ballard, Rob Cohen
Cinematography David Watkin
Edited by Peter Zinner
Music by Michael Masser

Production company: Motown Productions

Distributed by Paramount

Release date: October 8, 1975

Running time: 109 minutes
Budget $3.5 million
Box office $5,000,000


DVD: May 1, 2007