Today is the 25th anniversary of Waiting to Exhale‘s cinematic debut, a film that brought a never-before-seen look into the ’90s grown Black female experience. The timing coincides with author sisters Attica and Tembi Locke embarking on a project to bring Terry McMillan’s best-selling novel to TV. Currently in pre-production, the series is following in the footsteps of the 1995 film and adding the TV binge element to screen.
Mystery novelist and Empire screenwriter Attica Locke and her sister, memoirist and actress Tembi Locke, are under a script commitment with ABC and Empire creator Lee Daniels to bring the story to TV, according to Deadline. The entertainment website also noted in November that Terry McMillan will serve as a consulting producer. It’s been 25 years since Waiting to Exhale sparked a cultural phenomenon among Black female viewers who wanted to see their stories onscreen.
The film Waiting to Exhale starred the late singer Whitney Houston as Savannah, a TV producer who longs for a married man; Angela Bassett as Bernadine, a mother of two whose husband is leaving her for a White woman; Loretta Devine as Gloria, an overweight single mother who owns a hair salon; and Lela Rochon as Robin, an executive trying to elevate from mistress to wife. The story and film is set in Phoenix, Arizona, a city known for a low Black population but symbolically represents a phoenix rising from the ashes and starting over.
In Dorothy Butler Gilliam’s 2019 memoir Trailblazer: A Pioneering Journalist’s Fight to Make the Media Look More Like America about being the first Black female reporter at The Washington Post, she discusses the cultural impact of the film that opened in theaters on Dec. 22, 1995. She recounts the moment with her friend and Post executive, Joyce Richardson, and quotes her saying:
“‘Just like the friendship of the characters Gloria, Robin, Savannah, and Bernadine, our get-togethers lifted us up when we were down, helped us network, gave us shoulders to lean on, advice when we needed it, and a safe place to share the good and bad times,” she said. “Each of us could connect with the issues that these women had in one way or another.'”
The novel became a No. 1 best-seller and the film hit No. 1 on Christmas weekend 1995, dominating over Disney and Pixar’s first computer-animated venture Toy Story, Jumanji, and Grumpier Old Men.
The book’s characters are trying to figure out their relationships with men, which impact family, faith, and career, but it brings them closer as a way to de-stress. Friendship between women over men troubles is a common theme in works, but Waiting to Exhale incorporates the Black female perspective, which in 1992 was rare in contemporary literature.
With the 2000s HBO series Sex and the City still in reruns based on a novel by Candace Bushnell, the stories don’t age with time. But with Black women as the stars during a time when 47% of Black adults are single in a dating-app world, according to recent data from the Pew Research Center, the new show could resonate on a higher level than it did 25 years ago.
How the new version of Waiting to Exhale will be perceived in the #MeToo era, where women are looking for female friendships but may not be bonding over men trouble, has yet to be seen.
Amid the #BlackStoriesMatter movement sparked by the George Floyd protests, Terry McMillan tweeted earlier this year that she wasn’t getting the same amount of interest for her 2020 novel, It’s Not All Downhill From Here.
Attica Locke released her latest book, Heaven, My Home, last year. She’s also worked on the Netflix miniseries When They See Us about the Black men formerly known as the Central Park Five. Her sister, Tembi Locke, is an actress and wrote a grief memoir, From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home, about moving forward without her late husband. The memoir, a former Reese’s Book Club pick, is on track to become a film on Netflix with the aid of Hollywood bookwoman Reese Witherspoon.