Step

step-rev Step  (2017)    Fox Searchlight/Documentary    RT: 83 minutes    Rated PG (thematic elements, some language)    Director: Amanda Lipitz    Music: Laura Karpman and Raphael Saadiq    Cinematography: Casey Regan    Release date: August 11, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger, Tayla Solomon, Gari McIntyre, Paula Dofat.

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 Talk to almost any woman around the age of 30 and it’s likely that Bring It On is one of their favorite childhood movies. This supremely stupid comedy about a high school cheerleading team inexplicably became popular among the teen girl set when it came out in summer 2000. It grossed $68 million domestically and spawned several direct-to DVD sequels. I remember thinking at the time what if the focus of the movie shifted to the rival squad, a group of girls from an inner city high school. So many of these teen movies are about white people and their problems, why not try something different? I wasn’t a fan of Bring It On but I felt that there was an interesting story to be told about the black cheerleaders and their fight to get to the national competition. The documentary Step is kind-of/sort-of that movie.

sstep 2017 Instead of cheerleaders, the subjects of Step are members of the Lethal Ladies, a step-dance team from the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, a charter school founded in 2009 with the purpose of making sure every student graduates and goes to college. Anything less than a 100% success rate is unacceptable. Director Amanda Lipitz, a Baltimore native who helped her mother found the school, focuses on three team members, each one with a different set of circumstances. Blessin, a diva who lives by the motto “step is life”, is the captain of the team and appears destined for greatness. The problem is that she shows signs of inheriting her mother’s mental health issues. It’s depression that caused her to miss 53 days of school the previous year, something that cost the team dearly (they lost every competition that year). Cori is a high-achiever and the front-runner for class valedictorian. She has her heart set on attending Johns Hopkins but in order to do that, she’ll need a full-ride scholarship as her parents have no money to put her through college (she has six younger siblings). Tayla is the only child of single mother who’s totally involved in her daughter’s education. She is determined that her child won’t make the same mistakes she did. When the girl’s grades start to slip, Mom goes ballistic and orders Tayla to get her act together.

 Step follows the three girls through their senior year as they struggle to keep the GPA up and find the means to attend the college of their choice. For Blessin, there’s the additional struggle to stay on track and not be sidelined by other issues like a boyfriend who isn’t exactly supportive of her going away to school. There’s also her mother, not the most reliable parent in the world. On top of that, there are the grueling practices overseen by the new no-nonsense coach Gari (Coach G to her girls). Their goal is to compete against other step teams in the finals in Bowie, MD. First, they have to be good enough to qualify.

 While the girls’ stories are interesting, the most interesting aspect of Step is that Lipitz started filming shortly after the Freddie Gray incident (he died while in police custody) in 2015. There are shots of memorials and murals painted in his honor, a constant reminder of the everyday reality of the students. It adds a sense of urgency to what happens to the girls. One of them points out that African-American women are seen as the lowest rung on the societal ladder. They are determined to prove to the world that the opposite in true. The teachers and staff of the school are there to encourage and empower. It gives Step an element of social relevance.

 Step is a well-made piece. The dance choreography is impressive. There are some amazing shots like the girls walking down the hall Tarantino slo-mo style to the final competition. The girls show confidence without coming off as arrogant or annoying. There are moments, like when college counselor Paula Dofat makes an emotional plea for Blessin to be accepted into a special bridge program that will ease her transition into college, that are very powerful. My only gripe is that Lipitz doesn’t disclose her family’s connection to the school at any point. Perhaps she felt it would make Step appear biased. I say a good thing is a good thing no matter what the circumstances. Hiding something like this just arouses suspicion. It’s okay, Step is still a good movie. It’s empowering, uplifting and inspirational. It’s a movie you should definitely have your daughters watch. It has a positive message, something sorely lacking in today’s cynical entertainment. 

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