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.
Aaron D. Spears has a distinctive way of crafting analogies. Using descriptive metaphors, he has an ability to describe his life experiences in poetic verse. And with his extensive résumé of film and television roles, Spears’ acting career is grounded on a foundation of spoken-word.
He’s known as the suave Justin Barber on CBS’ “The Bold and The Beautiful,” which nominated him for the 2011 and 2012 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Daytime Drama.
Now, Spears has landed a role on BET’s new drama series “Being Mary Jane” starring Gabrielle Union. In the network’s first hour-long drama series, viewers follow a Black woman who’s a career-driven talk show host juggling family, social life and work life. Spears plays co-anchor, Mark Bradley.
“Cast and crew [were] very open, very down to earth. Gabrielle Union was a pleasant surprise,” Spears said. “She was not bourgeois. She was a regular girl, an average person at work. She was very warm and welcoming and mending herself to multiple options, not just stuck in one way doing or creating a character.”
Produced by husband and wife duo, Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil (“The Game,” “Jumping the Broom”), Spears described the couple’s working style as a joint effort of support.
“The director was cool,” he said. “Mara was very helpful in explaining any questions you may have. I like Salim in that he was open to suggestions, more of a collaborative effort as appose to directional effort.”
Spears admitted that while on set, he has learned a lot about himself as an actor. Balancing one television series takes hard work, but adding a second, Spears said will be a true endurance challenge.
“Some things that you ask for you’re not ready until you get that experience,” Spears said. “And that experience will either let it be known that yeah I am ready, or you will find out very quickly that you’re not.
“I compare this experience like double Dutch rope,” he added. “You’re getting your rhythm, you’re bouncing back and forth. You go to jump in the rope, but [if] you don’t catch that rhythm, that rope is going to sting your leg. That’s kind of how it is when you’re doing a drama because it’s long hours. A lot of shooting. A lot of waiting around. A lot of different takes. One, you have to maintain a level of testament, and two, making sure your interest don’t drop. When you’re off camera take that time to rest because at three AM you maybe doing a close up.”
Seen in films, “Babel,” “The Mannsfield 12” and “Blue Hill Avenue,” he has guest starred on television shows “NCIS,” “Castle,” “Boston Legal,” “Lincoln Heights,” “Bones” and “Criminal Minds.”
Aside from his full-time work in acting, Spears is passionate about his family. He credits his wife for providing support while he works.
“You got to have a strong person by your side. In terms of my wife and what she does, I always tell her like, ‘They couldn’t pay me to do your job. No. I’m good.’ You got to have a foundation. It’s a lot easier for me to go out and do my job because I have a foundation at the house.”
And the foundation that launched his acting career, stemmed from his experiences as a spoken-word poet.
“Spoken word was something very interesting,” Spears said. “Spoken word just kept following me.”
When he wrote a poem and got approval from family and friends, Spears said he realized he had a flair for poetry. After he moved from New York to California, he embarked on a journey — which yielded more opportunities for the actor.
“There was a poetry scene and that was my outlet of continuing to be in the spotlight. It kept me driven,” he said. “It kept me open. I kept writing and I kept performing at various clubs around the city. It kind of lent itself to me and I never was closed to it. Different energy [than acting], but still a creative vice to express. And ‘til this day, I still do spoken word.”
In 1997, Spears established his own company, HENNA Inc., which has introduced a new perspective of spoken-word poetry and a renaissance of film making in Hollywood.
Spears, a Washington, D.C., native, has additional talents as a former football player, artist and dabbles in singing, as well. Yet, he gave praise to Philadelphia for providing him his first experiences in the entertainment industry.
“I have a lot of ties to Philly,” Spears said. “Philly was one of the first places when I was jumping off the map trying to do my thing. I did a lot of modeling and auditioning in Philly. Philly always has that closeness to my heart. If it wasn’t for Philly, I don’t even know if I would have lasted in New York.”
As a previous Penn Relays participant, attendant of the annual Greek Picnic in Philadelphia and a fan of The Roots and Jill Scott, Spears jokingly said he wants to come back for a “fish cheese steak” sandwich. Just skip the beef because he’s no longer eating red meat.