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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Step is a moving, inspiring documentary about a group of Baltimore high school students in a step dance troupe who are working to graduate and get into college. There's no drinking, drugs, or smoking; very little sexual content (one mom advises her daughter to stay a virgin); and only a few curse words (including one use of "s--t"). Violent content is minimal, too, except for footage of Baltimore riots at the beginning of the movie and references to a famous case in which a man died while in police custody. One of the team's dances references this case and the Black Lives Matter political movement. Expect a bounty of positive messages about teamwork and perseverance, as well as great real-life role models. These hardworking young women talk about being proud, having integrity, working hard, and caring for their families. Their teachers support them, push them, and honestly rate their chances for future success. This is a great choice for families with tweens and up (younger kids may lose interest between step performances).
What's the story?
In a gritty Baltimore neighborhood, a group of real-life teen girls has big dreams. They want to go to college. They want secure, successful futures. And they're hoping to get there through their own hard work and the support of their families, teachers, and counselors and the step team at their high school. Schoolwork and studies will get them the grades they need to get into the colleges they long to attend; step dance will give them the discipline and teamwork to succeed there. At least, that's what they hope. Following the dancers from practice and performance to the classroom and their homes, STEP chronicles the hopes and the struggles of a group of teens who are both ordinary and extraordinary -- and utterly inspirational.
Is it any good?
Heartfelt, moving, and full of so many rousing emotional moments that viewers may veer between welling up and wanting to cheer, this documentary packs a punch. Opening with footage from real Baltimore riots -- as if to show us what these girls are up against -- the film soon narrows its focus to the students at an ambitious public charter school, and then further zooms in on a handful of members of the school's step team: struggling Blessin, sardonic Tayla, brilliant Cori. Each has a vision of what her future could be. Cori hopes to get into Johns Hopkins, Tayla wants to get further in school than her mom did, and Blessin just wants a secure future in which there's food in the fridge and she has her own space. Normal, typical dreams of the average high schooler. But as we soon find out, each of these girls -- and indeed, every student at the school -- has her own struggles and limitations.
But in the step rehearsal room, all of these outside worries fall away. Here, they work together as a unit under stern but loving coach Gari. Gari, the first in her own family to go to college, alternately disciplines and praises the team, hoping to teach them something about discipline and integrity. School counselor Paula, too, gives her students both tough love and encouragement, helping them fill out applications, making phone calls, sometimes even begging for a chance. Before long, viewers will be hoping right along with these high schoolers. Will they get the grades they need? Will their dream colleges accept them? Will the girls somehow find the money to go to school, the dazzle to win step competitions, the toughness to keep going? In a style reminiscent of great documentaries like Hoop Dreams, Step will make you care. And maybe cry.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why documentaries are often made about real people who triumph in the face of challenges/obstacles like the students in Step. What's appealing about that setup?
Which of the people in the movie do you consider role models? Why? Are they relatable? How does that affect how much you care about what happens to them?
Do documentaries have to be objective? Why or why not?
The emotional power of a documentary often depends on how much access the filmmaker has to the subject. What kind of access did this documentarian have? How can you tell that those featured in the film had a level of trust with the filmmaker?
- In theaters: August 4, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: October 17, 2017
- Cast: Paula Dofat, Cori Grainger, Tayla Solomon
- Director: Amanda Lipitz
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Arts and dance, Great girl role models, High school
- Character strengths: Perseverance, Teamwork
- Run time: 83 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and some language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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