Yesha Callahan

‘About Last Night’ Writer on Reimagining Movie for a Black Cast

leslye_headland_-_h_-_2014

About Last Night was a huge box office hit over the weekend, but Leslye Headland, the movie’s writer who had the task of reimagining the movie for a black cast, experienced first hand the perception and racism when it comes to “urban” movies.  In a recent post for The Hollywood Reporter, Headland writes about some of the difficulties she had with Screen Gems’ remake and the racist material that people were trying to pass off as jokes to her.

From The Hollywood Reporter:

A few months after I turned in my draft, Clint called me to tell me he had cast Kevin Hart, Michael Ealy, Regina Hall and Joy Bryant, as the four lead characters. He asked me to do a rewrite now that casting was set. I asked what he wanted me to change. The only note was to make the secondary characters (Bernie and Joan) equal to the two protagonists (Dan and Debbie). A pretty cool directive given that the “best friends” in romantic comedies are almost always commenting from the sidelines. It was a nice way to change up the old formula.

Anything else? Nope. Clint said: “I want your voice. These are your characters. And you are the only person who knows how to write them.” There was no discussion of changing the characters’ lifestyles or any of the storyline as a result of casting black actors. I had written a script. The studio had decided to go with the strongest cast for that particular script. That cast happened to have black actors.

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.

It looks as though Headland will probably be one of the few white people in Hollywood who gets it. At the end of her post, Headland reminded herself that at the beginning of the process she told herself,  “Don’t write jokes, Leslye. Write people.”

You can read the rest of Headland’s piece here.

  1. February 18, 2014 - Reply

    I love that quote! “Don’t write jokes, Leslye. Write people.”

  2. February 18, 2014 - Reply

    Well she one of very few. Some people are just lost showcasing black people on film and also don’t know how to make black people human without all the funny stuff.

  3. February 18, 2014 - Reply

    Funny write up on a serious subject.

    For context, the “Clint” in the excerpt refers to Clint Culpepper, the president of Screen Gems. I implore
    everyone to check out their filmography. That studio explicit allocates the lowest budget to films with a Black cast —
    even though that those films have generated the highest returns for them. In other words, their most successful
    franchises are the least compensated… for no apparent reason other than being a Black ensemble.

    “Obsessed,” by all accounts a week movie, still earned that studio about 4 times the investment. “Think like A Man”
    earned the studio a whooping 8 times its investment. “About Last Light” already earned more than twice its investment
    in one single weekend!

    Investments with those staggering kinds of returns generated by Black folks, should be in the pocket of BLACK FOLKS!

    This is why it is incredibly important to own. My people, own, own, own! Produce your own projects, tell your own stories, and control your own destiny.

  4. February 18, 2014 - Reply

    Unfortunately I found the movie horrible. I hate to be this person, but the people on screen I didn’t identify with at all. There were so many holes in the script.. Imagine moving in with someone and being afraid to say I love you first. One of many odd parts of the script.

    • February 18, 2014 - Reply

      @Roc

      It’s not bad or wrong to not identify, it’s just disproves Blacks are monolithic; I don’t walk into a movie expecting it to be relatable, but more so entertained. Just different strokes for different folks.

  5. February 19, 2014 - Reply

    I’m just seriously happy that she had the balls to call it out and to really see it for what it was. I know too many white people, who see stuff, think it might be off, but just let it slide either because they don’t want to make waves, or some other reason…

  6. February 19, 2014 - Reply

    I can appreciate her soft spot for “urban comedies”. However, I am a black woman. And I live in the suburbs. The term “urban” does not apply to me. Why can’t it simply be “a movie”.

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