This MTV production has some great entertainment value while drawing in on topics at the tip of the social discourse within the hip-hop community. There’s dancing, there’s music, and there’s even a club called Stepps. There are also the social stigmas surrounding interracial dating but therein lies a story of love. The film has a lot of love in it, but also shows the violence on the other side of this otherwise vibrant cultural community. One might say it has a bit of yin and yang; where a young woman has her eyes opened by both the kindness that strangers lend her in the hallway and the crudeness of fists in her face during gym class.
Sara (Julia Stiles), the new girl at school, comes from losing her mother and her desire to dance ballet. Once in the big city with her father, she discovers the difficulties of fitting in and making friends while being exposed to the vibrant possibilities of the urban scene. She’s the new white girl at school and she’s the minority. Her first night out at Stepps is an awkward embarrassment that lends a great laugh to the audience; Sarah’s talent as a dancer is redefined by the help of Derek, a thoroughly giving character whose played stunningly by Sean Patrick Thomas. Close attention was paid to the top ten on the hip-hop charts and the newest moves from the clubs. Just remember that this is no Breakin’ nor is it “YO! MTV Raps.” Instead there’s a distinctive style that emerges in the end as Sara fuses moves from traditional ballet with the popping and locking of hip-hop groove.
Although the movie revolves around Sara’s personal growth, this is not just her story. All the characters face large issues such as death, love, and family, while searching to discover their potential in a complex and confusing world full of negative alternatives to their success. Derek confronts choices involving friendship, but also the dangers of the streets and the risk of his promising future. His sister Chenille (Kerry Washington) also displays the challenges of a young woman raising a child and the struggle she has with the child’s father.
As one friend of mine pointed out, MTV has taken several already utilized concepts from Flashdance and Jungle Fever and molded them for a new generation. These themes are melted down and repositioned for the film’s PG-13 rating which coincides with the penetrating feeling that it is an after-school special. It tries to cover too much ground. The issues crowd the characters’ lives, causing too many generalizations and stereotyping about hip-hop culture and those that live it. Nevertheless, the performances by the gifted cast lend the film a reality-based appeal and the overall positivity comforts a new generation in hip-hop culture.