May 2001
Sparkle : Giving You Something You Can Feel

Nasser Metcalfe

Sparkle : Giving You Something You Can Feel

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 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.