Leslye Headland on Rewriting About Last Night for a Black Cast
5:41 pm, February 18th | by Kady Ruth Ashcraft
When playwright and Bachelorette scribe Leslye Headland was asked to rewrite the 1986 romantic comedy About Last Night, she had a daunting task set out in front of her. The odds are always stacked against you when remaking a hit move: can you ensure that your take will bring something new and fresh to the story? Are you giving audiences an incentive to see the remake even if they have already seen the original? Will anyone care?
After turning in her draft of the script, producer Clint Culpepper informed Headland that the film had been cast: Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall and Joy Bryant were to play About Last Night‘s leads. In a poignant essay for The Hollywood Reporter, Headland says that despite being a white woman rewriting a ’80s script for an all-Black cast, her process remained the same as it had been before the casting was set: “Don’t write jokes, Leslye. Write people.” Nothing changed as a result of the cast’s race — not the script’s voice, not the characters’ lifestyles, nor any part of the storyline. Because race was an afterthought in the process of developing About Last Night, the film steers clear of any essentialism or tokenization, which makes the story and its characters so successful
What shocked Headland during her rewrite were the reactions of others in the industry:
I had some very interesting reactions to the casting specifically from white people who work in the movie industry. While I was doing the rewrite, I got dozens of really mean jokes most of which I don’t feel comfortable putting into writing here because they were sometimes racist and always hurtful. The most clever one (still lame) was: “How’s your David Blamet script going?” It was like my script was suddenly not as good or less than or just plain not cool because of the casting. Whatever. Those people suck.
This was all happening while I was promoting a film I wrote and directed, Bachelorette. The questions I was repeatedly asked during that press junket were about the trend of “Women in Comedy.” Now the trend is “Black Films Perform at the Box Office.” This kind of marginalization represents the same narrow-mindedness that sparked the racist “jokes” I got during my rewrite. When anyone marginalizes the success of a female-driven comedy or an urban comedy, there’s something more sinister at work.
These types of comedies are treated as fads because the stars of these films and the protagonists they portray would usually be sidelined in mainstream cinema. So if the success of films like Bridesmaids and Think Like A Man lead to more films with female or black leads, well, crap … That might mean more scripts that represent minorities as people. Realistic, sympathetic or compelling PEOPLE. Instead of banishing them to one-dimensional joke-machine supporting roles to the white male characters.
It’s always fascinating to take a peak behind blockbuster movies and better understand the processes at work, even more so when the writer is admitting to the challenges they faced on their journey. I definitely recommend reading the entire essay and checking out the trailer for About Last Night which opened this past weekend.