WAITING TO EXHALE, Angela Bassett, 1995. Photo: 20th Century Fox Film Corp/Everett Collection

Angela Bassett, Loretta Devine and Lela Rochon on ‘that scene” from ‘Waiting To Exhale’

In an oral history of the 25-year-old iconic film, its stars revisit the friendship, the clothes and that fire

Aramide Tinubu
ZORA
Published in
7 min readDec 15, 2020

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In the 25 years since Waiting to Exhale’s debut, the ground has shifted for Black female representation. The film, which was written by Terry McMillan and brought to life by Forest Whitaker, was the catalyst for that change.

Savannah (Whitney Houston), Robin (Lela Rochon), Bernadine (Angela Bassett), and Gloria (Loretta Devine) entranced audiences as they navigated life, love, and the bonds of sisterhood. It was a welcome and refreshing anomaly amid a slew of films that focused on narratives from the inner city — mostly centering Black men. The film changed the industry and catapulted the stars of nearly everyone who touched it. Now, on this pivotal anniversary, the key female players — plus the guys who portrayed their boyfriends, husbands and sons — talk to ZORA about making one of the most iconic films in history.

When McMillan first optioned the film, she had one name in mind to play Savannah. However, Bassett couldn’t envision herself as anyone but Bernadine.

“I fell in love with the drama,” Bassett tells ZORA. “[Bernadine’s] fractured relationship with her husband, starting over and learning to invest in herself in every way, rediscovering who she is and what matters most to her, putting herself first. The idea was so badass.”

The moment she read Waiting to Exhale, Rochon knew she was destined to play Robin, the high-powered executive who picks the wrong men. “I fought so hard for it because I felt very right for Robin, and the fact that Whitney was already cast was huge to me,” she remembers. “It was my first time in a lead role.”

Devine also recalls the frenzy surrounding the novel and the film’s production.

“I read the book when it first came out,” Devine says. “Everybody in Hollywood was auditioning for [the movie]. It was an exciting time. We were in Arizona for three months, and some scenes were cut out that people never saw. I had to learn to swim because [Gloria] was supposed to have a heart problem throughout the movie.”

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Aramide Tinubu
ZORA
Writer for

Aramide Tinubu is a NYC-based film critic & writer. She wrote her master’s thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss. Find her at awordwitharamide.com.