‘‘Steel Magnolias” always seemed to be one of those “can’t top it” classics. A cult-favorite from 1989, the film detailed the friendship of a group of strong Southern women — played by Sally Field, Shirley MacLaine, Olympia Dukakis, Dolly Parton, Daryl Hannah and Julia Roberts, no less — who gathered and gossiped in a Louisiana beauty shop. Then the idea of a modern update was thrown around by producers Neil Meron and Craig Zadan, who were responsible for bringing “Hairspray” and “Chicago” to the big-screen. And then Queen Latifah, who appeared in the pair’s adaptations of those musicals, agreed to executive produce and star in the project. Suddenly, the idea of remaking the film actually seemed quite promising.
The finished product is no disappointment. Premiering Sunday at 9 p.m. on Lifetime, the film allows another all-star — and this time, all African-American — cast to tell the beloved story. Alfre Woodard, Jill Scott, Phylicia Rashad and her daughter, Condola Rashad, and Adepero Oduye join Latifah onscreen.
Woodard, who plays the role of Ouiser, originated by MacLaine, credits the story’s longevity to its focus on the universal principles of love and friendship. “These women cross economic lines, all lines in that town,” Woodard explains of the characters. “They have their other friends and groups but [these are the women] that they share things with the way they would share with a sister. It is a trust that goes beyond the casual acquaintances we have.”
Woodard considers the “chosen family” that the characters — and people in real-life — surround themselves with. “You’re born into a family, and you’re lucky if you get along with them,” she says. “You choose other people because you recognize them.”
It’s that recognition — the reflection of ourselves within the women of “Steel Magnolias” — that makes the film so special. “It’s filled with characters — and when I say characters, it’s about people,” Woodard says. “You can recognize them. Most of the things we see now in cinema, we can enjoy, but we wouldn’t know any of those people in our lives. [This is a film about] characters — real people — as opposed to cinematic events.”
Woodard on Ouiser:?It’s good to be bad
Woodard enjoyed sinking her teeth into Ouiser, the colorful, unrepentant battle-axe of the group. “It was liberating,” she admits. “In life, you always have to behave as if you’re being a responsible citizen and neighbor. You have to behave all your life!”