Waiting to Exhale’s successful transition from a fictional novel to the screen set the standard for stories depicting the lives of African-American women. Terry McMillian’s book chronicled Black women in a way they felt had done been done previously. The story follows the lives of four close friends who navigate relationships, heartbreak, and starting over while leaning on each other. The star-studded cast of Whitney Houston, Angela Basset, Loretta Divine, and newcomer Lela Rochon left viewers able to identify with each character in some way.
More than a decade after the film’s release, a sequel was announced with the original cast signing on to reprise their roles. The follow-up film would be based on the second book, Getting To Happy. But after the death of Houston, the film stalled.
‘Waiting to Exhale’ 1995 film
Released in Dec. 1995 by FOX, Waiting to Exhale was based on the novel of the same title. The book was released in 1992 and caught the eye of film studios. The film had a budget of $16 million and earned over $80 million at the box office.
Critics reviews of the film were mixed, with many loving the versatility between the four main characters and praising Bassett’s performance of a scorned wife. Houston’s performance was viewed as a strong second to Bassett, while critics loved the sass and comedy presented by Divine and saw promise for Rochon. The film was a hit with viewers.
A coinciding soundtrack produced and written predominately by Kenneth “Babyface” Evans – and with Houston serving as a leader – featured all-female artists and produced five singles that landed on the Billboard Top 100 Charts. A medley performance of songs from the soundtrack was performed during the 1996 Grammy Awards ceremony.
‘Waiting to Exhale’ sequel announced
A sequel to the first book, Getting to Happy, was released in 2010. The book picks up 15 years after the first with the four women remaining connected but experiencing different levels of love and loss. McMillian was inspired to write the sequel after she experienced a public and humiliating divorce and poured her energy into further developing the four characters with tidbits of her life spread throughout them all. She told CNN in 2010:
After my divorce, I was really bitter, angry, and I started meeting a lot of other women in my age group – mid 40s to late 50s who were just sad. So, in trying to explore what it might take for us to get back to happy so to speak, I just came up with four different scenarios that I know a lot of women have to deal with. I realized that I’d already told the story of four different female protagonists before and realized that those women were the perfect candidates to tell the other stories.
At the time of the interview, McMillian revealed that FOX had already purchased the movie rights before the book was even released. At the time, Rochon, Bassett, and Divine had already expressed interest in reprising their roles. They were working on getting Houston on board.
‘Waiting to Exhale’ sequel stalled after Whitney Houston’s death
Houston eventually agreed to reprise her role but as Rochon explained during an interview on Oprah Winfrey’s Where Are They Now, the studio was concerned about Houston’s addiction and questioned her sobriety. The cast refused to move forward without her on the sequel.
They were scheduled to begin shooting during the summer of 2011 and Rochon and Divine planned to visit Houston at her home. On the day of their scheduled visit, Houston checked herself into rehab, according to Rochon.
Shadow and Act reported that Forrest Whitaker, who directed the first film, signed on to direct the sequel and that things were beginning to move on production again.
Houston died in Feb. 2012 as the film was in early stages of development but at the time, there were no plans on replacing her character and Rolling Stone revealed the studio intended to move forward. Things however stalled for years after Houston’s death.
McMillian told Sister 2 Sister Magazine in 2015 that she was not sure if the film would ever happen and was not in agreeance with the idea to not have Houston’s character.
“I don’t think that’s going to happen. I really don’t,” she said. “It’s been horrible since Whitney [Houston] passed away for a whole lot of reasons. Fox wanted to basically eliminate that character altogether from the story. How they thought that was going to work, I don’t know.” She also said she thought the project was “dead in the water.”
Divine said in 2016 that she believed the film was still a possibility but as of today, there has been nor major movement or updated surrounding the sequel.