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.
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.”