Harlem, sweet Harlem. The place where dreams are born and
stardom is chased with vigor. For three sisters in 1958, this
journey would lead to more than they ever imagined. Released in
1976, “Sparkle” is regarded by many as a modern black classic. It
stars Irene Cara as the shy Sparkle, youngest of the talented
Williams sisters, Lonette Mckee as Sister, the sassy oldest, and
Dwan Smith as Delores, the headstrong middle child. The film opens
with the three sisters singing their hearts out in a church choir.
They display obvious talent yet seem content with the simpler
things in life. That is until fellow choir member, Stix Warren,
decides that along with friend Levi Brown, they have what it takes
to be the next sensational singing group in the record business.
Stix, portrayed by Phillip Michael Thomas, is principled and
driven. Dorian Harewood stars as Levi who is ambitious yet seduced
by the trappings of the underworld. The quintet begins to establish
a bit of a name for themselves on the amateur club circuit.
Ultimately, in an effort to push to the next level, Levi leaves the
group yet remains friendly and supportive as Stix shifts to
management duties. This leaves the three sisters as a powerful trio
whose star quickly starts to rise. Along the way, however, there is
always a price to pay for fame and fortune. Their destiny is
altered by Harlem crime lord Satin Struthers whom Levi works for.
However, it is Sister, the oldest who becomes involved in an
abusive relationship with him. On the way to the top these
promising young people will be challenged by drug abuse, violence,
and adversity from both sides of the law. It will all lead to the
triumphant performance as Ray Charles’ opening act at Carnegie
Hall. But was it worth the price? You decide.
For anyone who has ever sacrificed to chase a distant dream,
“Sparkle” will speak to your heart. Brilliantly acted, this film
has endured the test of time to remain a favorite of many. When I
suggested to some of the other Blackfilm.com staff that I was
considering covering it for this edition of The Video Vault, the
response was overwhelmingly positive. I don’t think I’ve ever heard
so many “Hell Yeah’s” at one time before in my life. Seriously
though, this film touches one on many levels. You want them to
succeed on the one hand. At the same time you can also feel remorse
that so much had to be lost in the process. There are tender
moments such as those that explore the budding romance between Stix
and Sparkle. There are tension filled moments like Satin’s abuse of
Sister and the pain that it causes for the rest of the family,
especially their mother portrayed by the legendary Mary Alice. Then
of course there is the thrill of achieving one’s dream.
Perhaps one of the most soul stirring elements of the film is
the music. Composed by the late great Curtis Mayfield, the
soundtrack yielded such hits as “Look into Your Heart” and “Loving
You Baby”. If those titles sound more familiar than the movie,
perhaps it’s because the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin popularized
these songs on the soundtrack album that was released. This was a
unique arrangement since lead actresses Cara, McKee, and Smith sang
the versions that appear in the film. Arguably the biggest hit
single to emerge from the Score was “Giving Him Something He Can
Feel,” which enjoyed renewed popularity when R&B Divas En Vogue
covered it in 1990, adding further credence to the brilliance of
Mayfield. “Sparkle” was written and directed by Joel Schumacher,
who at the time was deemed Hollywood’s golden boy screenwriter for
black themed films. This one is highly recommended. It is
guaranteed to give you something you can feel.