Released in 1989, this comedy-drama focused on a bond among group of women in a Louisiana parish. It starred Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah and a newcomer to the Hollywood scene, Julia Roberts. The movie was derived from playwright Robert Harling’s 1987 play of the same name. Harling wrote the drama in the wake of his own sister’s death as a result of diabetes.
The movie opens with wedding preparations for Shelby. This character, played by Roberts, is also a diabetic and has to deal with the fact that she may not be able to bear children. Harling expertly entwines the other women, all with varying eccentricities and strengths, into the story as they help Shelby not only prepare for her wedding, but lend support to her after she later decides to have a child. Shelby does successfully deliver a health baby boy, but she pays the ultimate price. Within two years, she dies from kidney failure even after her mother, M’Lynn, donates one of her kidneys to Shelby. Her family and friends unite to help Shelby’s husband, Jackson, raise their young son.
This was truly a great movie. The performance that young Julia Roberts gave earned her a Golden Globe award and an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress…her first. I have watched it over and over, and still cry at the graveyard scene.
Here’s the interesting thing...Lifetime has decided to use an African-American cast for the remake. Kenny Leon, the director of ABC’s movie, A Raisin in the Sun, is slated to direct this film set in Louisiana. When I read this earlier today, I went into deep reflection. My first thought was “Oh boy!” LOL…I could see another “Waiting to Exhale and Living Single while we discover How Stella Got Her Groove Back” production forming. Now don’t get me wrong…I have enjoyed watching each of these. But so often, in an attempt to keep it real, African-American features get so full of clichés and stereotypes. Frankly, I just didn’t see a need to remake it.
But I thought about it a little more. Suddenly I asked “Why not?” So I placed myself in the role of casting director and thought how I would cast it. Of course, stars like Kimberly Elise, Diahann Carroll, Elise Neal, Queen Latifah and Loretta Divine ran through my mind as obvious choices. I can even see Pattie LaBelle as the “Clairee” character. Yeah it might just work.
The shows, films and books I have truly enjoyed have always been the ones to which I could relate. They are the ones that when I close my eyes I suddenly find myself in the world they have created. That’s one of the reasons I fell in love with “Steel Magnolias.” I so loved the Shelby character. I felt her determination to live in spite of her condition, and I knew that I would have made the same decisions she made.
So as I sat in one our “eye-glazing” meetings this morning, my thoughts were drawn back to this news. I soon began to wonder which of the people in my life could play these characters. Who are the steel magnolias in my world? Which females do I know represent these delicate, fragrant flowers, but have the steely resolve to bloom and live even after being batter by high winds, fierce rain or chills? I am talking about those women who just won’t lie down and die even after they fall away from the things they know. As I remembered the scenes and the lines, friends and relatives soon replaced the actresses that made this movie such as hit. Before I knew it, I was writing my chosen cast down in my handy-dandy journal. Here’s the cast I chose:
M’Lynn was Shelby’s mother. She is very opinionated, but quite grounded. She is led by common sense and loves to keep things simple. She is an organizer and loves giving others things to do. She is the classic Mother Bear who is super-protective of her cubs, and easily takes on the mother role with everyone that walks into her sphere. She might be mistaken as bossy, but it is really love in overdrive. Two people popped into my mind when I thought about this character: my aunts Annie and Mary. The first is my mom’s oldest sister and the other is Pops’ youngest sibling. Believe me…either one could easily play the role.
The character of Truvy was played by Dolly Parton. She owned and operated a beauty salon that was attached to her home. She is a go-getter who loves to have fun. She has the Southern girl charm, but is open to new things and ideas. She sees things in color, but knows how to handle the black-and-white of the world. This casting was pretty easy…Truvy is so me!
Annelle is the beauty school graduate that Truvy hires. She is a shy girl that is led by her Southern sensibilities and religious upbringing. She naturally looks for the good in everyone, so any display of ugliness offends her. She has a humble spirit, but underneath, is a steel resolve. I didn’t ponder over this one to long. My play daughter “Bre-Bre” has this role hands-down.
The next character was a real treat. Clairee is a sassy widow. She’s a globetrotter and has truly experienced life. Clairee exudes class and culture, but don’t let her delicate nature fool you. She has no problem getting down and dirty with anyone. (Man, I howl each time I see her fight scene with friend-nemesis Ouiser in the graveyard.) She is one of those people who can deliver the nice-nasty…the ability to tell you off and be sweet in the same breath. Again two of my sistafriends could pull this character off without a hitch: my nomadic buddy Hannah and my “I’m here, y’all, so let’s do this” girl Ann.
And then there is Louisa “Ouiser” Boudreaux. The casting for this in the original movie was on point. It is hard to imagine anybody else playing this grouchy, two-time widow but Shirley MacLaine. Ouiser’s comedic “anger” is side-splitting. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear she was just a mean broad. But deep down, where it really counts is the ride-or-die chick. You may not always understand her methods, but when she has your back…she has your back. I must admit that I had to seek outside help to fill this role. Over lunch, I discussed it with Big C. His forehead wrinkled up for a minute or two and then he laughed. He opened his mouth and said in that “it’s really quite simple” tone of his: Tee. After looking into his eyes for a few seconds, I smiled and wholeheartedly agreed. My sister Tee would be perfect.
I saved the casting of the Shelby role for last. She was truly my favorite. Her wit and determination made her heroic. She was not willing to allow the possibility of death from doing something she truly desired to do. She has the “well, I’ll try anyway” spirit that I love. This casting has to be just right. I sat at my desk for nearly an hour…just rummaging through the file cabinet in my head. I looked at all of the women I have known and compared them to the role. My answer was shocking. In my film, the role of Shelby will be played by none other than my “twin” Ayana.
Okay, let me explain this choice. Ayana is one amazing chick. Every since she was conceived, she has been moving to her own beat. I almost died giving birth to this lady…no lie…because she was determined that she would enter this world when she was good and ready. I have told the story of that labor over and over. And each time, I just picture her bracing her hands and feet against my uterine wall and refusing to budge. Whenever Ayana is around when I describe it, she simply shrugs her shoulders and replies, “Hey, it was warm.”
Ayana has always moved at her own pace. Everyone in our house can be rushing to and fro to get ready to head off to an event, but not Ayana. She casually moves about, humming one of her newly composed tunes and checking her hair to make sure it is on point.
Now don’t mistake this for laziness. The girl is far from it. She is so gifted…and I am not biased. LOL! She has taught herself to play the piano, the organ, guitar and the keyboards. She even writes music, and the only formal “training” she has had was the school chorale and our church choir. She has a flair for fashion, and loves all things artistic! Plus, she also has perfect comedic timing and is an excellent actress.
And just like Shelby, Ayana is fearless! She never backs down from a challenge and is always ready to try new things. She is not even scared of those things that are physically extreme…in spite of being asthmatic. Oh man, I remember when she was first diagnosed. Poor baby was plagued with respiratory problems for almost a year. The devil was determined to silence my little girl who could belt out “Going Up Yonder” like a grown woman at age four. But Ayana, in her true “whatever” spirit, didn’t let that stop her. In fact, little lady came up with this calming technique that keeps the attack from progressing once it starts. She rarely keeps the inhaler with her. She is a true fighter…the perfect Shelby.
So this completes my casting of My Steel Magnolias. This was such a fun exercise. By doing this, I learned to appreciate the flavor of each woman God has added to my life. I can’t wait until the premiere of Lifetime’s version. I wonder if it will be as good as the one I have imagined. Hey, maybe I should reach out to them and tell them I know a few ladies who would be perfect for this project. Hmmmm…..