Step Sisters misses the mark of exploring cultural appropriation and life at a PWI. I’m an alum of a sorority and I grew up around stepping. I’ve seen most teen dance/cheer/gymnastics movies, so I was cautiously hopeful for Netflix’s newest original film.
Unfortunately, I should have just skipped it, because it doesn’t quite work. Like all dance competition films, there’s a competition or showcase at the end of the film. Here, it’s a charity stepping competition that a 99% white sorority must win to regain its charter and reputation after one member is filmed having sex on their lawn! And how are they to win?
Through coaching from Jamilah (Megalyn Echikunwoke), a Harvard Law hopeful who cannot get a legacy endorsement from her Harvard alum parents. I mean, perfection over excellence isn’t the best motto (the one Jamilah lives by), but her parents should want the best for her? Instead, she’s forced to accept Dean Berman’s offer to rehab Sigma Beta Beta in return for the letter.
Not that most sororities even party in their houses considering the expensive insurance policies…
Dean Berman, by the way, is gay. We know this because he overshares in almost every scene he has with Jamilah. Unfortunately homophobic, coming from the caliber of Lena Waithe, Chuck Hayward, Charles Stone III, Ben Cory Jones, and Matt Alvarez.
So, Jamilah, a leader of her own black sorority must teach a black art form to a bunch of white girls and the one black member. She even recruits the Black fraternity to help. Of course, they fail at the charity competition and the Dean pulls the plug on his idea and thereby Jamilah’s rec letter.
She signs them up for the Steptacular, which has a 100K prize they can then donate to Dean Berman’s favorite charity. All this while dealing with her obnoxious “woke” boyfriend, who’s portrayed by Matt McGorry of all people. He spends most of his time giving the viewers (and Jamilah) facts he learned in one of his African studies classes. (They do break up)!
Unsurprisingly not telling her sisters about all this blows up in her face. Her mom is mad, her sorors get mad, and SBB gets mad.
Along the way, there is an attempt at discussing these issues. But the film falls short in coming to a conclusion. Unlike other dance films which have always focused on bringing people together and exploring cultural expressions. After all, the original Bring it On was the first to portray the complexities of cultural appropriation against a backdrop of competitive cheer. Step Sisters also has most of its actually good scenes in the back-half, but getting to it doesn’t even matter. Especially when the line “races can’t own things” got uttered.
If this was a film deconstructing Greek Life’s originally exclusionary, racist, sexist, and homophobic origins? Or deconstructing Sigma Beta Beta as a stand-in for the worst stereotypes around sorority woman? That would have been epic. (They fund-raise by asking one of the dads for money and after dinner give the leftovers to homeless people. Which what? All Greek life has community service requirements.)
Or a film focusing on the culture, history, and importance of step in traditionally Black fraternities and sororities would have been awesome! (A romance between Jamilah “mostly hetero” and SBB president Danielle should have happened, but the romance between Danielle’s adoptive brother Kevin and Jamilah is mostly cute.)
Ultimately, Jamilah helps the SBBs perform a really good routine and get second place. Theta splits their first-place check with SBB to donate the prize to the charity, and Jamilah gets her rec letter from her parents but she’s not even going to Harvard so uh….
In the end, even Echikunwoke trying her best to bring life to the few funny lines and moments or the Steptacular can’t save Step Sisters.