During this time of social change, we are seeing more and more representation of black women in film and television. They are demanding to be seen and heard in outlets such as the much-anticipated Black Panther film, the new Star Trek television series reboot, and prominent roles previously given to Caucasian women like Zendaya as the new potential love interest in future Spider-man films and Amandla Stenberg as the lead in teen-romance film Everything, Everything. Some may consider this an enormous step in racial equality and representation. And while it is an incredibly appreciated step, it is merely scratching the surface on an issue that goes far deeper. Superheroes and romance is great, but the documentary Step, which follows a group of girls from inner-city Baltimore who desperately compete with their step team while also trying to become the first of their families to go to college, is a real-life look into the power, struggle, pain, and determination of young black women who do not have a mainstream voice, but deserve to be heard just as loudly.
I am not one for documentaries. I have seen very few in my lifetime and was half expecting to be praying for the end of this film 20 minutes in. To my complete shock I was immediately drawn in by the opening images of severe social injustice blended with the powerful movements of stepping. The opening screamed to the audience that this movie is not just about girls dancing, it is much more than that. Broadway producer and director of the documentary, Amanda Lipitz, does a great job of allowing us to be flies on the wall in the lives of the 19 girls who form the stepping group at Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women. We get a special in-depth peak into the families of 3 of the girls who are under constant pressure of grades, money, and their own family struggles. What pushes us along in this film is the pure determination of the girls to rise above their struggles and create a better life for themselves as well as the compassionate teachers, mothers, and coaches who urge them to success along the way. When everything is stacked against them, we find ourselves rooting for the girls to graduate and make it into college, while the actual stepping competition takes a back seat. At times, we see the girls break into tears over the hardships that they have had to endure, though they always seem to gather their hope and continue on standing tall. The unapologetic and raw emotional moments of the movie create a tender vulnerability and connection that had me shedding a few tears more than once and applauding the teams’ perseverance.
Shots of urban life interspersed throughout the documentary clues you in on the reality that the girls have come to know as normalcy. Of course, we get the typical interview style shots commonly seen in documentary films, and at times the camera appeared to be rolling before it was properly set up, though and those shots continued to be used in the film. The dynamic shooting of the dance routines was rhythmic and energized, zeroing in on the determined and regal faces of the girls as they dance their hearts out and demand to be seen
The film seemed to be told in sections. We got to see all sides of the team from creative excitement to rehearsal stress to feelings of failure to triumphant pride. This episodic storytelling at times seemed to hurry along the piece where we could have used some depth, especially when it came to the relationships the girls had with their mothers. But ultimately, a story that could have just been about a group of dancers, was transformed into a powerful message: Step is an inspiring story about self-proclaimed “bottom of the barrel” girls who learn from the support of their stepping team how to be proud of their black heritage, independence, and determination so they can rise up and go where no member of their family has gone before.
|Release Date:||August 4th, 2017|