Bet You Didn’t Know: Secrets Behind The Making Of “Disappearing Acts”

November 18, 2013  |  
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In 1989, Terry McMillan took the stories from her three-year relationship and turned them into inspiration for her novel Disappearing Acts. Over a decade later, the novel would be turned into an HBO, made-for-tv movie. You may remember the book as well as the movie but we bet you didn’t know these behind the scenes secrets.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood

Surely by now you recognize Gina Prince-Bythewood’s name. She was the woman behind the camera for some of your favorites like Love and Basketball and The Secret Life of Bees. But before she did Bees, she took on the Disappearing Acts project. In preparation to direct this film, she read the book 10 times and worked with McMillan to write the script for screen. In an interview with JET Magazine, she said the hardest part of rewriting the script “was not being able to put more of the book into the script.” But she must of put her all into the film because she was so exhausted afterward that she almost missed the chance to direct her next film The Secret Life of Bees. She was so tired from the experience she threw the manuscript in her closet. It wasn’t until five years later, after someone else had been offered the director’s position, that she realized this was the movie for her. That person eventually lost the job and Prince-Bythewood picked up from there.

Legal Troubles

As you know the original story was inspired by McMillan’s real life relationship with Leonard Welch, the father of her son Solomon. And apparently, Welch didn’t take too kindly to being used in this way. He filed a defamation of character suit again McMillan, claiming that the character Franklin, was fashioned, maliciously, after him. He said the characterization of Franklin gave the impression that Leonard himself was “hostile, angry and lazy,” “a racist,” a man who “drinks on the job” and is “intolerant toward homosexuals,” a “stool pigeon,” a “rapist,” “drug user” and a “a man who is crazy and sick.” The book sold 2 million copies and Welch claimed it affected the way people looked at him. He filed a $4.75 million lawsuit against McMillan Penguin and Simon and Schuster. He lost. 


Zora was too preppy? 

McMillan has always written about the black middle class experience. But apparently, critics didn’t always take so kindly to these portrayals. In an interview with The Guardian, an editor of Disappearing Acts told McMillan Zora was “too preppy.” McMillan responded: “Look, she’s not barefoot and pregnant, living in the projects and getting her A$$ kicked. I cannot apologize because some of us have been college.”

Her dream role 

Have you read The Secret? You know what they say, you can bend the universe to your will. And apparently, that’s what Sanaa did with this role. In an interview with JETshe explained her connection to this story. “I read the book when it first came out, and I loved it. I always thought, ‘God, I would love to play Zora.’ Terry McMillan’s characters are so real and so modern. I knew the story and it was a dream role.”

Sanaa on those sex scenes 

Though she wanted the role, perhaps Sanaa wasn’t exactly ready for all it would entail. In an interview with Honey, she explained how the sex scenes proved to be more than she expected.

“The love scenes were intense for me…Action: You’re grinding and kissing and moaning. And then cut: You’re standing there staring at each other.”


Living up to McMillan’s standards

And the sex scenes weren’t the only pressure (no pun intended) Sanaa felt in this role. Because she was such a fan of the book, she was nervous about living up to McMillan’s expectations. But Sanaa said Terry did something very sweet for her when they first began shooting. She explained, in an interview in JET

“I was really kind of nervous about what she would think because here’s this woman who created this character. Halfway through the shooting, I went to my dressing room. There was a huge bouquet of flowers and a note that said, ‘I saw Love and Basketball and I am so excited to see you as Zora. That was really nice.”

Who did Zora’s vocals?

Sanaa has many talents but singing is apparently not one of them. She underwent vocal lessons and training on how to breathe and look like a singer but she was clearly lip syncing. So who was the woman singing these songs? Melky Jean. Jean recorded an acclaimed album in 1999 and she just so happens to be Wyclef’s sister.


See what she looks like today.


Why Wesley Took the role

Wesley was actually one of the producers of the film with his company, Amen Ra Films so in addition to adding this project to his acting resume, he also wanted the production credit. Here’s what he said: 

“I first heard about the book a couple of years after it was published, and I thought it would be good for me to do a love story. I thought it was a great dramatic role in a good story about Black love and a chance to work with great actors. It was also an opportunity to expand Amen Ra Films’ diverse interests in all genres of filmmaking.”

How he relates to Franklin 

Even though there were times when Franklin seemed like a bum, Snipes thought of him rather fondly. In fact, he described him as a great guy who just had some difficulties. In fact, Snipes said Franklin reminded him of himself in some ways. “Coming up against some of the obstacles that many young Black men face, I have drawn from experience in my personal life to create the character in this piece. Before I was a movie star, I was an unemployed actor, really struggling to make a living like everybody else. I can really relate to where my man is coming from.”

The movie’s take on relationships 

What’s the takeaway from this flick? Here is what it is according to Wesley Snipes:

“…I would also hope that it will heighten their sensitivity to the fact that there can be external forces that undermine healthy and great relationships. Forces that cause us to blame the ones we love and overlook the ones that love us. This story is addressing the fact that sometimes it take more than love to make a relationship work. ‘I love you isn’t always enough to pay the rent and to deal with a lack of self confidence. A lot of work has to be put into it.”

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