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.”
The grainy images taken by the nuclear-powered Curiosity rover of the lofty mountains and red deserts of the planet Mars are only the most recent dazzling accomplishment of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the agency that landed men on the moon, and created a space shuttle that could safely land like an airplane.
Determined not to rest on their laurels, NASA’s 12th administrator, Charles Frank Bolden Jr., says the federal space agency still has worlds to explore and missions to accomplish.
“There was a feeling of relation, relief, to be quiet honest,” Bolden told the Tribune. “We have taken what to many people may seem like science fiction and made it science fact.”
The retired Marine Corps general was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the United States Senate in 2009 to lead more than 17,000 civil servants and 40,000 contractors around the world to execute the vision and operations of the world’s foremost space exploration organization. As the voice and face of NASA, Bolden communicates directly to the president and Congress on current projects and future missions.
While growing up in segregated Columbia, South Carolina, Bolden said that he couldn’t have dreamt that his 34-year career would land him in leadership roles in the military and ultimately NASA.
“You would think that I went to the Naval Academy because I wanted to be a leader, but I didn’t,” Bolden said. “I was fascinated by the life that I saw of a mission on a television program called ‘Men of Annapolis’ that talked about life at the Naval Academy — and I was especially impressed with the uniform. I had no knowledge about what the Navy was going to be like. My assumption was that I was going to the Navy because of two things that I knew — I was not joining the Marine Corps, and I definitely would not fly airplanes.
Along the way, those goals changed.
“Not in my wildest imagination did I think that I would become an astronaut, or a general officer in the Marine Corps, and most especially not the NASA administrator. These were all three things that came in my life quite by surprise to me — not by plan.”
In 1968, Bolden graduated from the Naval Academy as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. Four years later, he served as a naval aviator stationed in Thailand and flew missions over Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in the A6A Intruder.
In 1977, Bolden returned to the United States and earned a master’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Southern California. He then attended the Naval Test Pilot School where he met Dr. Ron McNair. McNair and Bolden grew up about 42 miles from each other, but didn’t know one another. McNair was from Lake City, South Carolina.
“I met Ron McNair while I was serving as a test pilot,” Bolden said. “We spent a weekend at a place called Pawtucket River, Maryland, just talking about his experiences in the astronaut office and his first year. I would never have applied for the astronaut program had it not been for Ron.”
One day, McNair asked Bolden if he would join the astronaut program.
“I properly told him, ‘Not on your life.’ He looked at me and frowned and said, ‘You know that’s the dumbest thing I ever heard. Why not?’ I said, ‘They’d never pick me.’ He said, ‘How do you know if you don’t apply.’ Ron McNair encouraged and inspired me to apply for the astronaut program. I did, and I was subsequently invited to come to Houston to interview.”
In 1981, NASA selected Bolden as one of only eight Marines in the shuttle program, and the first African-American Marine to become an astronaut.
“My peers at that time were other test pilots from Pax River and friends of mine from the Marine Corps, and they all were very encouraging. I think most of them shared my joy, the joy of my wife and me, when the word finally came out that I had been selected in the second group of the Space Shuttle astronauts.”
As an astronaut, Bolden flew four shuttle missions between 1986 and 1994.
He would then return to the Marine Corps as Deputy Commandant of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy. In 1997, Bolden was named Deputy Commanding General of the First Marine Expeditionary Force in the Pacific. He served as Commanding General of the First Marine Expeditionary Force Forward during Operation Desert Thunder in Kuwait.
In 1998, Bolden was promoted to Major General and named Deputy Commander of the United States Forces in Japan. In 2002, he was named Commanding General of the Third Marine Aircraft Wing in San Diego, and in 2003, he retired from the Marine Corps.
Now as NASA Administrator, Bolden is the face behind Curiosity’s planned two-year mission and several other projects such as next year’s launch of MAVEN.
“MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) is an upper atmosphere data gathering satellite,” Bolden explained. “What we hope to do is use this to get additional information about the upper atmosphere of Mars, to better enable us to plan the entry and landing for follow-on missions behind Curiosity. With the ultimate mission being a human mission in the mid-2030s.”
Credited for his support of NASA and its missions, such as Curiosity, Congressman Chaka Fattah is an active NASA enthusiast, according to Bolden.
“He is a strong advocate of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education which is something the president pushes and we at NASA strongly promote,” Bolden said. “He is a very strong advocate of technology development to keep this nation first in the world, and he pushes us to do that. He always asks tough questions, but he’s always encouraging — and I don’t think we ever accomplished anything that I haven’t received a congratulatory phone call from him expressing his support, and that of the people of Philadelphia.”
Fattah is a senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and related agencies. Earlier this week, he was in Pasadena for the Mars landing. Shortly after Curiosity’s touchdown was confirmed, Fattah was in the control room.
“NASA has always been a model of public and private partnering — our brightest home-grown entrepreneurs and innovators working hand-in-hand with our government to push back the frontiers of space and science,” Fattah said in a released statement. “Administrator Charles Bolden and the whole dedicated NASA team are to be commended as they tackle this crucial next stage and satisfy our ‘Curiosity.’”
Another interest for the administrator is to have space flights accessible to the masses by 2030, or even sooner.
“Realistically seeing how we progress, how budgets have sort of impeded the type of process you would ideally like to have,” Bolden said. “We’re not quite on the verge of space flight for the masses just yet. We are, however, on the door step of opening up the opportunity for space flight to many more people than could fly during the days when only governments flew people into space.
“I think beginning perhaps next year, with flights by entities like Virgin Galactic, you’re going to see that there’re going to be people who initially will fly what we call suborbital missions. That’s a mission where they launch from somewhere like Mahogany, California, go into the edges of outer space — the way that Alan Shepard did — and then come back down to Earth and land on a runway somewhere. That should be happening as early as next year. That’s our hope.”
E. Steven Collins was 19 years old when he met the famed radio announcer, Joe “Butterball” Tamburro. Like most Philadelphians in the 1970s, Collins faithfully tuned into WDAS FM and jammed to the R&B and soul classics of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s.
But when there was an opening at WDAS for a newsperson, at that time, the news director, Dave Shorr, called Collins and asked him to try out.
“I was deliriously happy,” Collins recalled. “And I tried out on Butterball’s show — the midday show from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. And I remember it because I was scared when I got there.”
As a Temple University student, most of Collins’ peers were auditioning for jobs at KYW and other local stations. Having previous radio experience at WHAT for a year and a half, he knew he was ready.
“I wanted to be a journalist, but I wanted to work in Black radio,” Collins said.
Around a quarter of one, Collins entered the studio on Belmont and Edgeley Roads. When he walked in, Butterball was on the phone. Collins sat down and Butterball pointed and directed him where to sit. There was a microphone there and Collins prepared his newscast.
Just as the music began to fade out, Butterball turned to him and said, ‘Alright guy, if you mess up, it’s back to WHAT.’ The two shared a laugh — a hearty laugh as Collins' described it that would spark a friendship lastly over thirty years.
And Butterball’s laugh carried over on air when he announced that it was time for news.
“He said what song had just been playing, Earth Wind and Fire or something. ‘And here’s E. Steven Collins.’ I was on the air. Because I was relaxed, I did a really good newscast. My father heard it and he called me.”
“When I finished, Butterball put a song on and he called Bob Kline — who was the general manager — and he said, ‘This guy is good enough for my show.’
Thus, Collins was hired in June 1978, a summer of memorable firsts.
“In all those years, and the most important thing, Butterball was a constant. I worked at WDAS, later Clear Channel, for 22 plus years and we had a number of different general managers, market managers, field mangers and promoters.”
“But there was only one program director all of those years and that was Butterball. [He]
was an enormously powerful person in the music industry. He was a guy who many people consulted with on what songs to release off new CDs. Kenny Gamble talks about it all the time.”
WDAS radio personality Patty Jackson said that Gamble often praised Butterball’s ability to hear a hit.
“Kenny Gamble said Butter had the best ears in the business for picking hits,” Jackson said. “Everyone from Smokey Robinson, The O’Jays, Patti LaBelle, James Brown and Frankie Beverly to Eric Benet, Babyface, Boyz II Men and Teena Marie got their chart topping hits started right here with Butter playing them first in the country on ’DAS.”
“A big part of the success that they had has to do with Butterball,” Collins continued. “Butterball had as Kenny Gamble once said, ‘a golden ear for radio and music.’ It didn’t matter who the artist was. Butterball would hear a song and he would know. Barry White would ask him. Luther Vandross would ask him. And [Butter] would tell them and he would play it on the radio right away.”
“He was so much more because he got Philadelphia. He was an Italian kid from South Philly, but he understood the African-American experience because he lived it. He didn’t see me as a Black kid from West Philly that was coming out of Temple and trying to get a job on the radio. He saw my potential.”
Butterball’s ability to hear talent even picked up Patty Jackson’s voice, which led her to work for WDAS.
“I remember Patty being on an AM radio station,” Collins said. “And I told Butter, ‘She sounds like us, man. You should put her on.’ And he said to me, ‘You don’t know anything about radio. I’ll listen to her.’ He and I went to get a cheese steak and I put on this AM station she was on, WSFJ, and Butter listened to her and said, ‘Hey I like her. Tell her to call me.’ She’s always had an amazing sound and of course Butter had that ear.”
From Collins’ 1978 interviews of Frank Rizzo, Edward Rendell, Hardy Williams and other people making news in Philadelphia, there was an impact in the news department and the Black community’s ability to get information.
“Butter wanted us to be in the community. Late in the summer of ’78, we talked about a way to create something for the community that would bring people together.”
During this time, Klein had been WDAS’ general manager for 30 years and retired. His assistant, Cody Anderson took over and had input into the efforts to have more station presence within the Black community. Even still, it was Butterball who implemented the Unity Day initiative and made it work.
During the same year in 1978, Fat Larry’s Band performed on the Belmont Plateau for Unity Day’s premiere. Collins remembered there were about eight or 10 vendors and people played softball.
“We had a ball,” Collins chuckled. “And 30 or 40,000 people [came] and we couldn’t believe people showed up for our first Unity Day. The city didn’t have an African-American centered event. The next year it became bigger.”
Unity Day eventually was held on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with several performance areas with varied entertainment including the gospel stage, senior citizen area and children’s area. A highlight was the Unity award — given to someone who preserved and protected Black heritage. It was presented to several national recognized figures like Reggie White, Dr. Leon Sullivan and Julius Irving.
“Butterball was hands-on deck, very instrumental in helping us to get really good entertainment on these stages. Artists like Kool and the Gang, Phyllis Hyman, The O’Jays, The Whispers, and ultimately James Brown and Smokey Robinson. The top names would come in and perform in the dead of summer and give Philadelphia just an amazing day. What I call, ‘Our Day on the Parkway.’ ”
Collins said that Butterball’s impact to the radio station, community and to his personal life was a memorable experience.
“Butter was like a father with all of us at ’DAS then. He was proud of us if we got a new car or house, if we had a baby, if we got married. Butter could tell if you needed a pep talk or if you just wanted a partner to roll with and get a cheese steak. It wasn’t like you went out with your boss. You went out with Butterball.”
Collins now serves as director of urban marketing and external relations at Radio One.
“For all of us, Doug Henderson, Mimi Brown, Patty Jackson, Terry Johnson and Tony Brown and Louise Williams-Bishop, we cry when we think about him not being around,” Collins said. “It’s such a loss. I don’t know if I can find the proper way to express what he was in our lives. He was special.”
Exploring the history of soul food, understanding the complexity of Black identity and watching an established musician flee a record label to become an independent artist are some of the topics tackled at the BlackStar Film Festival, Aug. 2–5 at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, Art Sanctuary and International House.
During this four-day festival, 40 films, including narratives, documentaries, music videos and experimental films will screen. In addition, the directors, writers and producers of color represent several countries, including Canada, Haiti, Germany, Jamaica, South Africa, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo, the United States and United Kingdom.
“I feel there is a strong tradition of art produced by Black people in Philadelphia,” said Maori Karmael Holmes, festival founder and artistic director. “And I felt like there needed to be a film festival that connected to what I think we’re recognized for — music and dance and similar art forms.”
Undergoing a 10-month planning process, the festival team searched for films that would bring social conversation to the Philadelphia community and a renaissance to the entertainment industry.
“[We’re] just purely sharing the work of people,” Holmes said. “I think we’re all trying to make work and that’s how we’re contributing. We’re taking advantage of the lower costs to make work and hopefully make stuff that people are interested in.”
During the festival, filmmaker Ava DuVernay — the first African-American woman to win the award for Best Directing at Sundance — will discuss her latest work and strategies for the continued effort to give African-American filmmakers a voice in the movie industry. Her recent film, “Middle of Nowhere,” scheduled for an October 2012 release, will screen an exclusive excerpt at the festival.
International filmmaker, Oliver Hardt (Germany) will premiere his film, “The United States of Hoodoo,” for the first time in the United States. This film follows a writer who returns to America to reveal the myths and legends of Voodoo.
Representing the United Kingdom, Canada and Haiti is filmmaker, Sonia Godding Togobo. Her film, “Adopted ID,” follows the journey of a woman who returns to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake to locate her birth parents. This will also be the film’s premiere showing in the United States.
In Steven Zegans’ film, “The Res Documentary,” Res—a soul rock singer whose single, “They Say Vision” was a Top 40 hit, shows her life as a musician. Having singles like “Golden Boys” and “Ice King,” which all received radio time, Res makes a decision to leave her label when a project is delayed and ultimately dropped. Moving back to Philadelphia and creating music, Res finds a renewing outlook on her career. There will be a question and answer panel with Zegans and Res after the film.
Another element to the festival will be the screenplay readings. There will be two readings, one screenplay and one television pilot. Holmes said that readings don’t often happen at film festivals.
“We’re excited to allow people into the process of making a film by letting them see a screenplay from where it begins,” Holmes said.
Throughout the festival, there will also be free workshops, parties and receptions.
“My goal is to share [the films] on the big screen which is how I feel most filmmakers intend for their films to be seen,” Holmes said. “And that’s not often how they get a chance to be viewed. Here’s your opportunity to see them on the large screen.”