'Now girl, this is the part when Angela brings the young boyfriend from Jamaica home to the barbecue to meet the family at Suzzanne Douglas' house." Publicist Anna Fuson leans into her whisper as if telling tales out of school--blacktop rumor at its best.
October rages on above us --all sun and humid hubris so below the raised wooden deck is cluttered with undulating, flip-flop shuffling and tank top-clad folk. Adjacent to the action, long wooden tables sit laden with brightly hued melon cubes, paper plates, salads, buns, condiments, sandwiches, a tin basin with ice cream and soda.
There's a real 'Q going, curling out hickory-flavored smoke to accompany all that real live summer-style heat to keep the mood aloft.
The only element that peeps this "party's" authenticity (or lack thereof) is the jams: the abrupt stop and start of Parliament-Funkadelic's perennial last dance party ride--"Flashlight"--squiggling (for art's sake) out from a ledge-resting boombox--just as it gets good. Braids stop flying, fingers stop popping, the dance floor cracks to green-light/red-light attention--time collapses to a halt: like having a party trapped in a jar.
"And Angela . . . oooh," Fuson quickly self-corrects "I mean, Stella's, ex-husband, is there . . . who, oh no! He did not just do the robot!" Fuson words get swallowed in a cascading giggle. "He is too wrong! No wonder why she divorced his butt! Anyway, her ex is jealous of this cute young thing! And she doesn't mean for everybody to meet her boyfriend. She just wanted to drop her son off and get back to the house, you know, for well . . . you know . . ."
Um, we know.
At least a couple million of us have an inkling.
Those are the mighty many who picked up--or borrowed a dogeared copy of "How Stella Got Her Groove Back," catapulting it to the bestseller list--Terry McMillan's loquacious gush of a novel, the glancingly autobiographical follow-up to her blockbuster novel-turned-event, "Waiting to Exhale."
"Stella" is purposefully stepping its way to the big screen this Friday, with Angela Bassett in the title role, along with Whoopi Goldberg, Regina King, Douglas and newcomer Taye Diggs as Stella's fresh and fawning seducer. The hope is that this lightheaded and in-love McMillan vehicle will serve to bowl over the "Waiting to Exhale" audience with its own seductive powers.
Somehow, despite its lengthy and prominent perch on the various bestseller lists, the incantatory power of "Waiting to Exhale," when it came to the screen, seemed to catch much of the media unawares. But those who were already dyed-in-the-wool McMillan thumpers--affronted by the shock--could have predicted the rush to the ticket booths: They came in twos and threes and sometimes boisterous groups of 14.
When it was all said and done, "Waiting to Exhale," directed by Forest Whitaker and written by McMillan and Ron Bass, grossed more than $67 million for 20th Century Fox. Its success created a precedent of sorts: that thoughtful, stylized, character-driven black dramas (or romantic comedies) sans guns and gangstas could strike a chord. So one might imagine the pressure on first-time feature director Kevin Rodney Sullivan to follow in those rather sizable footsteps.
Much of the success of "Exhale" owes a tremendous debt to McMillan's own sister-circle signature style of storytelling: her perfect pitch and golden ear and reliance of heart and voice to propel a story. There is a particularness and currency about her characters--professional black women who reject or reconfigure any modern mainstream mold or sepia-toned racialized pigeonhole set before them.
This isn't to say that the subject matter is an afterthought. There is something about McMillan's work that is ready-made, comfortable, easy to ease into. And it isn't just about shading or spicing dialogue with a dash of authenticity by employing an intermittent rotation of "go girls," uttered by stock "sistah friends" shouting "amens" from the corner. Just as McMillan's brand name-quoting characters could suss out a knockoff a mile away, then talk about him a mile longer, the same goes for her readership who can easily cut a crass imitator down to size.
As one Internet fan curtly tapped out on her keyboard: "I am to the point where I will not read a book again with a cartoon character on the cover anymore. The [Synthia Saint James] cover worked for Terry and that is fine but I wish publishers would get off the bandwagon."
They want the real deal--and so elaborate measures have been taken to preserve that unmistakable watermark.
Though McMillan swears up and down this will absolutely be the last time she lends her efforts to big screen self-adaptation, Sullivan, on the other hand, hopes his first effort will make eloquent of her swan song.