In a bit of peculiar-yet-awesome development news, Deadlineis reporting Lifetime is set to remake Robert Harling's genius 1989 Southern dramedy Steel Magnolias — with an all-black cast! Craig Zadan and Neil Meron are set to produce the reimagining via their Sony TV-based Storyline Entertainment shingle. Famed director Kenny Leon is set to direct. Sally Robinson (The Music Man) is adapting the original Harling vehicle, which began as a stage play Harling wrote to help him cope with the loss of his sister to diabetes.
Since no casting choices have been reported for the project as of yet, I figured I'd give Wishful Casting the TV adaptation of one of my favorite movies a whirl! For the lead role of M'Lynn Eatenton, ever fretful mama of fragile-yet-courageous Shelby, I can't think of anyone better than Grey's Anatomy's own source of indominable strength, Chandra Wilson.
One of TV's most underrated stars, Wilson as Bailey has kept Grey's on many a fan's DVR when the perpetual neuroses of Meredith and her Dr. McDreamy had us ready to ask for a time of death on the ABC sudser. Wilson would be the perfect person to follow in Sally Field's sensible shoes. I get chills thinking about what she would do with M'Lynn's graveyard meltdown!
For Shelby, M'Lynn's daughter, who like Harling's real-life sister struggled valiantly with diabetes, while never ceasing to go after her 30 minutes of wonderful, I'd cast former child star Keke Palmer. Palmer has proven she can do both drama (Akeelah and The Bee) and comedy (Nickelodeon's True Jackson, VP), and at 18, she's only a few years younger than Julia Roberts was when the role of Shelby put her on the Hollywood A-List.
Photos of Chandra Wilson and Keke Palmer by PR Photos
As M'Lynn's best friend Truvy Jones, owner of the gossipy salon where the Magnolias frequently congregate, I'd go with the Queen of Sass, Jackée. Jackée has been experiencing a pop culture renaissance of late, as her visit with Andy Cohen on Bravo's Watch What Happens, with fellow 227 alum Regina King, proved to be a hit for the series. She's also a regular on ex-husband Elgin Charles' crazy-as-hell reality series Beverly Hills Fabulous. Then there was her own hilarious Funny or Die spoof Nurse Jackée; if that isn't proof she deserves to be back in the spotlight, I don't know what is! Besides, Jackée is practically the only sistah in Hollywood who can fit into one of Dolly Parton's bras.
In the role of wayward newcomer-turned-Bible thumper Annelle Dupuy—played by Daryl Hannah on the big screen—I'd cast up and comer Tika Sumpter. After M'Lynn and Shelby, Annelle has the most significant character arc in Steel Magnolias, transforming from a scared-of-her-own-shadow weakling to a rowdy party girl and finally a saved, sanctified kook. Having conquered soaps (One Life to Live), primetime (Gossip Girl, The Game) and the big screen (What's Your Number?) in recent years, I think Sumpter definitely has the range to do Annelle (and the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost) proud.
As wise-cracking, well bred, aging Belle Clairee Belcher, widow of the mayor, how about Phylicia Rashad? The Cosby Show mom has been turning up in movie projects on the big and small screen in recent years and would definitely lend the same kind of timeless elegance to the project that Olympia Dukakis did to the first Steel. Besides, she's as funny as hell!
As Clairee's frenemy and the richest woman in town, Ouiser Boudreaux, I'd employ a smidge of stunt-casting by giving the plum part to Rashad's real-life sister Debbie Allen. Wouldn't it be a hoot to see the sisters battling it out as a pair of Southern dowagers? Anyone wondering if Allen could pull off a portrayal of Ouiser as comically mean as the one Shirley MacLlaine managed in the original need look no further than Ovation. There you can catch a marathon of Allen as fierce task master Lydia Grant in Fame.
Now for the guys! As M'Lynn's ornery husband and Shelby's protective daddy Drum, I'd enlist funnyman Chris Rock. You just know Debbie Allen is itching to tell Rock to eat shit and die for some reason or another. Oh wait, this will be on cable, so she'd probably have to say eat dung and die, but I doubt it will lose too much in the translation! I also think Rock has the dramatic chops to shine opposite Chandra Wilson during the script's more dramatic moments; he just hasn't been given many opportunities to prove it.
As Shelby's beloved Jackson Latcherie, I'd lock down former child rapper-turned-promising actor Romeo Miller. With impressive turns in Jumping The Broom and a burgeoning sex symbol status, I predict Miller could entice a lot of younger eyeballs to check out the project in Dylan McDermott's old role.
For the part of Annelle's frustrated love interest Sammy Desoto, who famously drove off dressed up as the Easter Bunny to see his child delivered during the original flick's closing credits, comic character actor Anthony Anderson (Transformers, Scream 4)would be a good fit for the role Kevin J. O'Connor originated on the big screen.
As Truvy's husband Spud Jones aka the textbook definition of "strong, silent type," I'd go for Idris Elba. Hopefully a TV movie would enlarge Truvy and Spud's storyline, giving Jackée and Elba (and the audience) more of a steamy payoff than the one afforded Dolly Parton and Sam Shepard in the big screen version.
Last, but not least, in the small-but-integral part of Owen Jenkin (Bill McCutcheon in the movie), the man who got away from Ouiser, I'd go with Sherman Hemsley. Sure Hemsley has made a career of playing jackasses like George Jefferson (All in The Family, The Jeffersons) and Deacon Frye on Amen, but I think he'd work perfectly against type as a mild-mannered, meek fellow opposite Debbie Allen's Ouiser. Now it's your turn. Tell us who you'd cast in Lifetime's all-black version of Steel Magnolias in the comments!