With funky music splashed with soulful harmonies, glamorous fashion that revealed independence and the distinctive, yet ambitious dreams of three sisters trying to break away from their Detroit life in 1968, this new version of “Sparkle” is a refreshing take on the 1976 original.
Although there are numerous and obvious differences from the Joel Schumacher and Howard Rosenman project, the cast successfully drove the relatable story of continuous dream-chasing despite frustration and tragedy experienced along the way.
The story follows the lives of three sisters who make the choice to create a music group. Having to sneak out to performances because of their mother’s rules of staying in the church and having a wholesome image, the girls eventually rebel and try to sing their way to a record deal. However, the group begins to break apart when reality kicks in and shakes things up.
In her film debut, Jordin Sparks, (“American Idol” winner, Season 6) played 19-year-old Sparkle Anderson, a shy young woman who has both song writing and singing talents, but wants to be in the background. Through her journey of discovery, she is ambivalent about making career moves without her sisters, facing the wrath of her mother or leaving her family to experience love. Even though Sparks has an extensive singing résumé, she is able to convey an emotional performance.
The oldest sister Tammy Anderson, known as Sister, played by British actress Carmen Ejogo, has the dream of being a headlining act. Similar to the original, Sister is an independent, rebellious woman, but Ejogo reveals the motivation of Sister’s superficial dreams that swallow her up into a destructive relationship. The film could have gone with a different title simply because of Ejogo’s strong performance as Sister.
And keeping both Sparkle and Sister in line was the third sister, Dolores Anderson — known as Dee — played by Tika Sumpter. Unlike the original, which keeps Dee in the background, Sumpter brought the sassiness and intelligence of Dee to the forefront which balances the trio. Never loosing her essence and career goals, Dee maintains her poise while supporting and even protecting the sisters.
Emma — the tough, religious mother who tries to keep the sisters sheltered from the industry because of her own deferred dream — is creatively crafted by Whitney Houston (“The Bodyguard”). Houston’s character does not support the singing career of her daughters for fear that they will experience painful disappointment. Even with keeping the girls in the church choir, Emma cannot contain their passion.
There are sensitive themes of Houston’s real life paralleled to the lives of other characters. And yet, she plays the part well and sings a raspy solo.
Stix, played by Derek Luke, is a passionate dreamer in his search for a sensational girl group. And with his discovery, Sparkle shows him something that he wantsb more. Luke’s acting strength is able to pull out more vulnerable moments for Sparks which creates a believable chemistry between the two.
In the original film, Satin is a sly character who leads Sister to her downfall. Having Mike Epps play Satin Struthers — who is modified as a prominent Black comedian who tells jokes to white audiences at the expense of African Americans — was a surprising choice. Epps showed an unexpected dark side that spoke to his ability to play more than a comedic role.
Also in the film is Levi — the cousin of Stix — played by Omari Hardwick and Grammy Award-winner CeeLo Green who played Black.
Loosely similar to the original, this film draws a new generation of dreamers who will understand the complexity of breaking away from what’s familiar to the hard work it takes to accomplish a dream.
This film is directed by Salim Akil (“Jumping the Broom”); the screenplay is by Mara Brock Akil (“The Game,” “Girlfriends”) and produced by Debra Martin Chase (“Just Wright” and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”), T.D. Jakes, Salim, Mara and Curtis Wallace (“Jumping the Broom,” “Not Easily Broken”). It was executive produced by Whitney Houston, Howard Rosenman, Gaylyn Fraiche and Avram Butch Kaplan.
“Sparkle,” a TriStar Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving domestic abuse and drug material, and for some violence, language and smoking.
Grammy Award-winner Whitney Houston delivers a strong performance as Emma in the remake of “Sparkle.” Stripped from any similarities of the 1976 classic, Emma is a tough, deeply religious woman. As a single mother and dress shop owner, she tries to keep her daughters, Sparkle, Sister and Dee — played by Jordin Sparks, Carmen Ejogo and Tika Sumpter, respectively — protected from the harsh realities of the music industry. And when her daughters refuse to follow her rules, conflicts begin to surface and Emma realizes that she cannot restrain their passion to dream big.
Ejogo and Sparks share their experience with working with Houston in her last film project.
“She brought a reminder to me everyday that we worked together [with] the value of humility,” Ejogo said. “She was [an] incredibly humble person who recognized that she has been given a great opportunity to tell a great story. And she didn’t squander it. She took it so seriously.
“To watch somebody with that much commitment to the project was a really valuable experience. To be reminded that no matter how iconic you can become you can still have a humility that allows you to relate to the other actors, to the whole experience in a way that makes it really authentic for everyone that is a part of it. That was really special.”
Sparks says that she was always a Houston fan and to be in her presence was surreal.
“To be across from somebody that you’ve idolized your whole life and loved your whole life, and wanted to be like, is definitely something …,” Sparks said. “It was amazing to be across from her, and I heard her sing everyday. I know people would have given their right arm to just hear that. The fact that she has always delivered on screen, to see how amazing she was, she was a constant professional — she came in and set the tone for the day. To be able to be across from that and learn, I was basically like a sponge soaking up everything.”
Even with Houston’s celebrity status, the ladies said that behind the scenes Houston allowed for other actors to shine, too.
“I really don’t know why I wasn’t totally expecting that, but I wasn’t,” Ejobo said. “She was so nurturing and waiting to make sure that everything was good for us. This was her coming out moment, but she was as invested in making sure it was our moment too. That’s a rare thing for someone who has reached that level of iconic status — to have that much interest in how other people are faring.”
“She was very conscious of the real-life pitfalls of this industry. I didn’t know this, but apparently she had a track record throughout her career supporting young talent, really nurturing and making sure people felt that they were in a good space,” Sparks said.
“But to be able to get the example of ‘don’t forget where you came from,’ ‘don’t be ashamed of who you are’ and ‘always remain humble’ was an example because she was all those things. She wasn’t ashamed of who she was and what she’s been through.”
Emma, Sparkle, Sister and Dee’s life together parallels Houston’s life.
Ejogo said Houston was aware of these similarities.
“She was very open about her life if I needed it,” Ejogo said. “Whitney knew the movie she was making — that there were parallels between her life and Sister’s — but there are also parallels about her life and Sparkle. Whitney was also that amazing singer that had this gift, but Cissy [Houston’s mother] was very protective of Whitney as a young girl … ‘I don’t want my baby in that industry. I want to keep her away from it.’ Even Delores, there is a strength about Tika where she just says it like it is — which is very Whitney. She was very straight up in that way.”