Today in film history, December 22, 1995, “Waiting to Exhale,” which was released in USA theaters and would, for a long time, be the highest grossing feature film written by, directed by and starring an all-black cast (adjusted for inflation, it’s a $100+ million grosser). It was also actor Forest Whitaker’s theatrical feature directorial debut (before that, he directed a TV movie titled “Strapped”).
Of course I can’t talk about the film without mentioning the fact that a sequel to it has long been in the works; but as of this year, it still appears to be no longer on any studio’s slate.
The year Whitney Houston died, the talk was on whether the upcoming sequel to “Waiting To Exhale” would at all be affected by her passing, and if the project would actually push forward.
In 2012, it looked like the answer to that question was yes, with concerns lingering on whether Houston would simply be replaced, or if the character would be written off, with maybe an early mention in the sequel by one of the other characters that she’d either passed, or maybe moved to Italy, or something like that. Those questions were never answered. Although then Fox 2000 Pictures prez Elizabeth Gabler spoke on the matter, saying it wasn’t inconceivable that Oprah Winfrey would play a new character to make up for Whitney’s absence.
However, as Gabler also cautioned, no deals had been done with anyone at the time.
Skip ahead to last year, to an interview author Terry McMillan gave to S2Smagazine.com in which she said that the sequel was pretty much dead. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. I really don’t,” McMillan said. “It’s been horrible since Whitney passed away for a whole lot of reasons. Fox wanted to basically eliminate that character altogether from the story. How they thought that was going to work, I don’t know […] They got somebody else to write the script. There have been two or three drafts, but it just wasn’t working […] It was a story that I thought was more compelling than trying to compete with the predecessor. That’s Hollywood. I think it’s kinda dead in the water.”
Michael Elliott (“Just Wright” and “Brown Sugar”) was hired to pen the screenplay at the time.
McMillan was certainly open to the idea of a new actress playing Houston’s role, or maybe a new character being written in, stating: “As much as I loved Whitney and I loved her in that role… any time they can have seven different 007s, as iconic as Whitney was and still was, it was a role. It wasn’t Whitney Houston; it was Savannah; you know what I mean.”
She then chimed in with what actress she would like to see in the film. “I still think that Viola Davis would have done and could do a great job playing Savannah.”
The most recent news we have on a potential sequel came from one of the film’s original stars, Loretta Devine, who said in a press interview in March of this year: “They’re still writing it, for all we know… Everything happened so quick because Gregory [Hines] passed and then Whitney passed and it’s like you can’t start a movie with two funerals and they were like the key characters, and so everything just sort of got scattered after that, but I think [writer] Terry McMillan is still trying to make it happen.”
As for Devine’s thoughts on who could replace Houston in the role of Savannah or a similar role, she added: “Oh, they have so much new young, great talent, so it would be limitless girls that could do it.”
No updates, reports, announcements, rumors, etc since then.
So is it going to happen, or is it not? Given the current climate we’re in, I wouldn’t be surprised if the project is made official; a time when diversity is on the minds of many, with healthy box office results and TV ratings to bolster the argument for it; a time of more overt hatred and division than we’ve seen since the last film as Donald Trump takes office; and also a time when studio execs seem to prefer, maybe now more than ever, rebooting/reimagining/sequelizing existing or known properties. So while McMillan has previously said that it’s a dead project, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if there’s suddenly renewed interest in it. It checks multiple boxes on their diversity criteria list, and it’s based on a popular novel series for which a successful movie was previously produced. Now may be as good a time as any for McMillan and Fox to consider pursuing the idea all over again.
To be based on her novel “Getting To Happy,” the sequel was housed at Fox 2000 Pictures, and was reportedly being shepherded by the original “Exhale” director Forest Whitaker; although it wasn’t said that he’d also direct the sequel.
The original starring cast (minus Whitney Houston of course) were also expected to return.
Watch the trailer for “Waiting to Exhale” as a refresher (the movie is available on various home video formats.