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‘When Boys Exhale:’ Reimagining of Classic Film Centers Black Gay Men In Atlanta Stage Debut

For many Black gay men, there are certain films in the Black theatrical cannon that continue to resonate decades after their release—” Waiting To Exhale,” the 1995 blockbuster based on the best-selling novel by author Terry McMillan and directed by Forest Whitaker, is one of those films. The impact of the original goes far beyond the popular gif of Bernadine (Angela Bassett) flicking a cigarette as she walks away from her husband’s torched luxury car. Now, writer and director Anthony Green (Cagedbirds Productions) is taking the commercial and cultural success of the film and adapting it for the stage in “When Boys Exhale,” an original reimagining centering the experiences of Black gay men inspired by the classic film.

After a sold-out premiere run in 2019 at Anacostia Arts Center in Washington, D.C, Green, in partnership with Tre Productions, is bringing “Exhale” to the Atlanta area on April 22. It’s an exciting time for the D.C.-based artist and his cast, who says he never imagined his play would mount a full production, only to have the pandemic completely halt all plans for the show’s immediate future.

“After we had those sold-out shows, we were going to do some more in DC because the demand was high, but then COVID hit and we had to cancel that, and I had to put When Boys Exhale on the shelf. I wasn't going to even touch it again,” Green says.

Upon learning the play’s origin, it’s plausible that Green’s “Exhale” would have been placed on the shelf following its initial success and not given a second thought by the man who penned the script.

Writer/Director Anthony Green (Image via Instagram)

“When I originally wrote this, it wasn't even going to be produced for the stage. It was therapeutic,” Green says. “A friend of mine passed away from HIV- [related complications] and in one of our last conversations, I promised to write the story of his life, and his favorite movie was Waiting To Exhale. So this is his story but told with quotes from the movie and situations that are reminiscent of the film and music from the movie. It's an original story. It’s his story. It's our story,” Green adds.

During an era where Black gay characters in film and television were reduced to one-dimensional stereotypes, if represented at all, the original film included two gay characters, Joseph, the sassy, limp-wristed hairdresser played by straight actor Lamont Johnson, and David, the once down-low, then bisexual, then openly gay ex-husband of Gloria (Loretta Devine), played by Giancarlo Esposito, also a straight actor. Green says it was important for him to evolve the gay characters as he was writing the script for his “Exhale.”

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