A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Step Sisters is a comedy/musical that uses step-dancing to illustrate rivalry and racial stereotyping that occurs among young adults -- in this instance, an African-American sorority and an almost all-white sorority on a fictional college campus. Expect lots of dancing, black-versus-white dueling stereotypes, and many bumbling practices before "the big competition." Clumsy dancers will become precision steppers, racial barriers will fall, romance will blossom. Alcohol-fueled parties, along with busy taverns, are the core of the students' social life. Drunkenness is routine. Language is coarse, with frequent swearing (e.g., "s--t," "ass," "Jesus Christ," one use of "f--k" and the "N" word) and sexual conversation ("t-ts," "d--ks," "bite off nipple," "schlong"). It's all meant to be fun, with a few important life lessons included to redeem the clownery.
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What's the story?
African-American coed Jamilah (a fine Megalyn Echikunwoke) is in a pickle in STEP SISTERS. It seems like she has it all: smarts, popularity, talent as a formidable step dancer, and a heartthrob "wanna-be-black" boyfriend. She's looking forward to Harvard Law School. But unexpected events at Westcott University have left her scrambling for the law school sponsorship she needs. Her problems could be solved, she is told by the Dean of Student Affairs for whom she works, if she can meet a bizarre challenge. All Jamilah has to do is turn an almost all-white group of sorority sisters, who are in danger of losing their charter, into a precision step-dancing team. Reluctantly, Jamilah accepts, but the snooty "mean girl" president of Sigma Beta Beta isn't on board. Not yet. And the "SBBs" are certainly not natural step dancers! It's an oddball setup that leads to jealousies, breakups, and an unexpected romance. And everything becomes dependent upon the results of STEPtacular!, a prestigious step-dancing competition that's only weeks away!
Is it any good?
No points given here for originality or surprises; however, some dynamic dancing and a few earnest performances make it passable. Super-achiever vies with mean girl. Who will win the big contest? To make fun of stereotypes, Step Sisters' filmmakers create typical ones, then try to add some depth to the characters. It works, to a degree. Anchored by Megalyn Echikunwoke in the lead role, the cast appears to be having a wonderful time -- forgoing subtlety for brash fun. And hitting racial biases head on can't ever be considered a total miss.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the racial messages in Step Sisters. Were the filmmakers successful at portraying typical racial stereotypes and then turning them around? Why or why not? What were some of those stereotypes?
What makes a movie predictable? When did you know how this movie would end? When did you determine that Dane was not the right man for Jamilah? Are you satisfied when a movie is predicable if the journey taken by the characters is engaging enough?
An interesting concept in this film was "Races can't own things." Tiger Woods, Eminem, and the tennis-playing Williams sisters were used as examples of this insight. Did this concept feel right to you? What are some other examples of the notion?
- On DVD or streaming: January 19, 2018
- Cast: Megalyn Echikunwoke, Eden Sher, Lyndon Smith, Marque Richardson
- Director: Charles Stone III
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Comedy
- Topics: Arts and Dance, Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Run time: 107 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: crude and sexual content, partying, language and drug references
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