Quick, name the movie!
"Drink your juice, Shelby!"
"Don't talk about me like I'm not here!"
Those two lines are likely what's burned into any PWD's brain who saw... you guessed it! (if you read the post title)... the movie Steel Magnolias.
It's the film in which Julia Roberts plays Shelby, a young woman with type 1 and dealing with family stresses in the U.S. South. There's the famous scene in the beauty parlor, where Shelby goes low while getting her hair prettied up before her wedding. Beads of sweat appear on her lip and brow, and she's trembling and being held down as she fights off the cup of orange juice that her mom — played by Sally Field — is trying to force down her throat.
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And then there's everything else that happens in the 1989-made movie that's influenced a generation of women — and some of us guys — on the topic of diabetes in a not-so-positive way. Shelby wants to have children, and struggles with a diabetic pregnancy. While it may have been "technically" accurate for some circumstances, many of us PWDs see the movie's approach as overly dramatic and focusing too much on the worst-case scenario rather than what living with diabetes is actually like.
I've heard many in the Diabetes Community say they refuse to watch the movie because of what they've heard. Others have shrugged it off as "Hollywood fiction." Personally, while I can't talk much about the child-bearing aspect, I find the juice-drinking salon scene very powerful. Truth be told: I get a little choked up and emotional every time I watch that scene, because that's exactly how I've acted and felt during lows. You may not agree, but that scene really hits home for me.
Now more than 20 years later, Steel Magnolias is being remade as a Lifetime Television movie.
So, we'll have a modern-day adaption complete with cell phones, iPads, and Beyonce and Facebook references. And the key news: an all-African-American cast.
The modern television adaption is being directed by Kenny Leon. Queen Latifah is serving as executive producer and starring as M'Lynn, the mom originally played by Sally Field. Shelby will be played by Condola Rashad, while other cast members include Alfre Woodard, Phylicia Rashad, Jill Scott, and Adepero Oduye.
It's set to air sometime this fall, though Lifetime hasn't yet said when.
What isn't publicized at this time is just how diabetes will be dealt with in this new movie.
Type 1 or 2?
In a two-minute trailer, the lines seem to mirror those in the original film. And they seem to be following the same plot line that includes Shelby being diabetic and getting pregnant. There's even the line: "Diabetics have healthy babies all the time," with cast members being all supportive that this will be one of those times.
At its heart, the movie is about the bonds of friendship between six Louisiana women. But you can't ignore the fact that diabetes, and everything that happens associated with it, is at the heart of the story.
When I first heard this movie was being remade, I cringed. First, because I'm not a big fan of movie remakes. There's just no need, in my opinion. And when I got the news about it being an all-black cast, I wondered if diabetes would be portrayed the same as it had been. Would this still be type 1 focused? Or would the new movie focus on type 2, since African-Americans are more than twice as likely to be living with type 2 than non-Hispanic whites? And how would pregnancy and complications fit into this picture?
We started worrying about what messages this could send the general public if the movie-makers got it wrong, so we attempted to contact the movie-makers directly.
A New York Post interview with one of the co-producers says the adaption is actually based on the original play screenplay, not the 1989 movie. So that means there will be some new scenes and dialogue, but that's pretty much all we know.
Speaking for Lifetime Television, A&E Networks' senior VP of public affairs Danielle Carrig didn't provide much insight either. She refused to answer questions about whether the movie would focus on type 1 or type 2 or about how the diabetic pregnancy issue would be addressed. They're also not granting interviews at this time with cast, producers or those involved with the movie in any way.
A Movie-Based Advocacy Opp
Carrig did share one interesting element: the network plans to launch an advocacy campaign in conjunction with the movie release. It will be an online forum where people can go to ask questions and find information about diabetes.
"We think this can be a point of further education about diabetes and raising awareness," she said in our phone interview.
Carrig told us they welcome ideas about online resources that could be included in this site (!). Of course we directed her immediately to Diabetes Online Community (DOC), including the Diabetes Advocates program, TuDiabetes, DiabetesDaily, DiabeticConnect and Diabetes Social Media Advocacy (DSMA).
We told Carrig about some of the concerns we all have about this movie being accurate and not misleading. How it has the potential to raise awareness for the diabetes community, or it could set us back by fueling fears, misinformation and stereotypes.
She seemed to understand, noting that accuracy is key and they have their legal and medical review teams involved in the production to review everything (as do all movies, and we've seen how some of those have turned out...)
Diabetes in the movies and on TV is nothing new. We've covered this issue before, looking at shows using diabetes as a plot driver, and there are many other articles on this out there. Unfortunately, many use diabetes as a tool for heightening the dramatic effect, with little regard for accuracy or portraying something you'd see in real life.
That's where our community's voice comes in.
Fellow advocate and D-Dad Tom Karlya, VP of the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation, has an inside track on the performing arts. He's a former actor who's been on stage and in TV shows, and so with his diabetes connections Tom has been working behind the scenes to let Lifetime know about our community's hopes and worries about this Steel Magnolias remake.
"Being involved in that industry for as long as I was, I have a special place in my heart for trying to assist in 'getting it right' when it comes to diabetes," Tom told us. "Everyone loves to laugh and sometimes we take ourselves too seriously, but the simple truth is that the misconception of diabetes in presentation format is not funny at all."
After the cast and crew announcement in April, Tom reached out to the director to offer any assistance from the diabetes community that might be needed. No one got back to him, but he kept trying.
"After a few more attempts, I knew the project was completed and I ascertained that they probably had all the help, assistance, and/or guidance that was needed to portray diabetes in the correct light. I sure hope so as the diabetes online community is not shy, nor should they be, at informing the public when media gets it right and also when they get it wrong."
We're encouraged that Lifetime is taking the initiative to create the online advocacy portal and direct people to more information. That's pretty noteworthy and commendable, we think. Here's hoping the movie gets it right, too.
We all know it's Entertainment, so we can't take what we see or hear in movies or on TV as gospel. But the truth is that movies and TV are a core means of information for many people, and hopefully the new Steel Magnolias won't feed the already-saturated well of misinformation. We don't like to choke on our popcorn.