Step Sisters (2018)

Step Sisters
Director: Charles Stone III
Writer: Chuck Hayward
Cast: Megalyn Echikunwoke, Eden Sher, Lyndon Smith, Gage Golightly, Alessandra Torresani, Nia Jervier, Marque Richardson, Naturi Naughton, Matt McGorry, Sheryl Lee Ralph, L. Warren Young, Robert Curtis Brown
Seen on: 3.1.2020

Jamilah (Megalyn Echikunwoke) has her life completely figured out: she’s president of her sorority, leads her sorority’s step dance group, she gets excellent grades, she has a devoted boyfriend (Matt McGorry) and she knows exactly where to go next: Harvard Law. But her plans are being threatened by another sorority’s embarrassing misbehavior. The school fears for its reputation and tasks Jamilah with getting the white girls of Sigma Beta Beta back on track by turning them into step dancers and winning the next contest. Despite her misgivings about bringing that black tradition to a bunch of white girls, Jamilah sees no way out but to do as asked – but that proves more difficult than initially thought.

Step Sisters was fun enough with a few good things, but I was also a little weirded out by the way they handled race in it. Since race is at the front and center of the film, that’s not a small thing.

The film poster showing two pair of boots, one black, one pink.

I did enjoy Step Sisters, don’t get me wrong. It was fun and had some extremely good moments. Especially Matt McGorry’s Dane was an amazing character that takes a very sharp look at how white people who do want to be allies to black people sometimes go overboard, too. Everytime he opened his mouth, it was such a spot-on indictment of a certain kind of allyship.

The dancing was also really cool. Unfortunately there weren’t that many proper routines – it was more training and failing. Given the storyline, that is of course entirely logical, but at the same time, it was also a shame, because for me, dancing is just a real big part of the draw of dance movies – which is probably not surprising.

A group of women in pink cowboy outfits.

But as I said, I was a little taken aback by the stance the film takes on what is, basically, cultural appropriation. Jamilah is forced to bring an element of black culture to a bunch of white women (and a black woman who has assimilated to the dominant white culture) who don’t even want it. Usually the dynamic is more that white people steal that shit from black people. And to everybody but Jamilah, it feels like it’s that very thing happening again. Understandably, Jamilah’s black step group is miffed, to put it mildly. And the message the film seems to want to send out is one of colorblindness. Everybody can step. What sense does it make to draw racial lines? It seemed made to appease white people – so much so that I actually checked whether the author and director were white (apparently not). Maybe I’m veering into Dane-allyship here, but as a white person, I could have done with a little more anger here. Not at Jamilah, who is in a tough spot. But from Jamilah, who quickly resigns herself to the entire thing. Of course, the film may read differently to black people, but given that even the entire set-up of the story means that we spend most of the time with Jamilah and Saundra (Nia Jervier) as the lone black women in a sea of whiteness, I doubt that it reads much better for them.

There were some interesting touches in the characterizations here and there (though never fully fleshed out) and Echikunwoke is a great lead, even with the thin (and sometimes confusing) material she is given. But overall, the film just didn’t really come together for me.

Jamilah (Megalyn Echikunwoke) stepping with her dance group.

Summarizing: can be watched, but is definitely not a must-see.

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