Nellie Andreeva

EXCLUSIVE: The 1989 film Steel Magnolias is getting a contemporary remake with an all-black cast. Lifetime is developing an original movie based on the hit feature, which will be produced by Craig Zadan and Neil Meron and Sony Pictures TV, where the duo’s Storyline Entertainment has an exclusive deal for event long-form programming. Kenny Leon, who directed Storyline/SPT’s previous collaboration, the 2008 ABC movie A Raisin In The Sun, is attached to direct the new Steel Magnolias, which, like the movie, will be set in Louisiana and explore the bond among a group of women in the present day.

Both Lifetime’s Steel Magnolias and ABC’s A Raisin In The Sun are based on properties that span a famous play and a feature. But while the Emmy-nominated Raisin In the Sun was based on Lorraine Hansberry’s play (whose 2004 Broadway revival Leon directed), Steel Magnolias, penned by Sally Robinson (Iron Jawed Angels), is an adaptation of the screenplay for the movie, which was written by Robert Harling based on his play. The feature boasted an all-star cast of Sally Field, Dolly Parton, Shirley MacLaine, Darryl Hannah, Olympia Dukakis, and Julia Roberts. The goal of the TV movie’s producers is to assemble a similarly high-wattage cast of black actresses. The film, said to be a passion project of Lifetime president Nancy Dubuc and EVP Programming Robert Sharenow, has not been greenlighted but is on a fast track, with some preliminary work on casting choices for the leads expected to begin soon.

In addition to A Raisin In The Sun, which starred Sean Combs, Phylicia Rashad, Audra McDonald and Sanaa Lathan, Leon also directed the stage productions of Fences starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, and most recently The Mountaintop with Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett. Zadan and Meron are executive producing the midseason NBC series Smash and Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva, which was recently renewed for a fourth season. Additionally, the duo is producing Paramount’s Footloose remake that opens next week and the Broadway production of How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying starring Daniel Radcliffe, who will be succeeded next year by Glee‘s Darren Criss and Nick Jonas. Steel Magnolias is not the first classic American literary property to be given an African-American makeover: L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz spawned the musical The Wiz, while Debbie Allen directed a Broadway production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof with an all-black cast. (Leon had been attached to that project at one point.)

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