Starring Jordin Sparks, Whitney Houston, Mike Epps, CeeLo Green, Carmen Ejogo, Tika Sumpter, Derek Luke and Omari Hardwick, “Sparkle” arrives in theaters August 17.
This new version of “Sparkle” is an ode to the genius of the original 1976 movie, modified to the music, fashion, lingo and historical affects of the 1960s, while maintaining the emotional clarity and aspirational spirit of the earlier classic. The city has been changed to Detroit, the home of “Hit Factory” Motown, and the original struggling single parent is now an upper middle class family doing very well.
Famed choreographer Fatima Robinson was the mastermind behind the choreography in the film. When she started on the project – a fast schedule that involved a week in Los Angeles and a week in Detroit with the actors — what really helped was having an original movie to reference. “Having that template allowed me to kind of pick parts of a song – maybe in the original they focused just on the hands and shoulders, and I decided, let me focus on the hips and other parts,” says Robinson, who sought the same kind of subtle sensuality in the performance scenes that the 1976 film boasted. “That was one thing that I wanted to cherish and keep.”
Robinson assembled a team that included assistant choreographer Joylene “Jaeblaze” Frazier, who would help drill the actors on moves if Robinson had to powwow with director Salim Akil about details like lighting or costumes or steps. “She has my back in every sense and form,” says Robinson. “Collectively as a team we’re able to split up and really make it work.”
Salim Akil directed the film from a screenplay by Mara Brock Akil and a story by Joel Schumacher and Howard Rosenman. The film was produced by Debra Martin Chase, T.D. Jakes, Salim Akil, Mara Brock Akil, and Curtis Wallace. It was executive produced by Whitney Houston, Howard Rosenman, Gaylyn Fraiche and Avram Butch Kaplan. The director of photography was Anastas Michos, ASC. The production design was by Gary Frutkoff with Terilyn A. Shropshire, A.C.E. as the film editor. The music was by Salaam Remi, and R. Kelly was an executive music consultant. The film’s choreography was by Fatima Robinson, and Ruth E. Carter was the costume designer.
Robinson worked closely with costume designer Ruth Carter, too. When creating the choreography, Robinson would send videos to Carter so she could see how best to accentuate the girls’ bodies with the right kind of dresses. The “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” number, in particular, excited Robinson’s love of collaboration. “Ruth and I talked about the best way to accentuate what [Carmen] has, because her body is incredible. And when I saw the dress, I just changed a few moves so that she was more to the side of the dress. Sometimes, watching it would just send chills because I just loved how it all came together.”
Salim Akil has nothing but praise for Fatima Robinson. “She is a true artist,” says Akil. “A lot of times Fatima would go ‘Sssh, I got it,’ because most times we communicated by looking at each other. She could see in my face my reactions. I just loved Fatima’s aura.” By the end, Akil felt he could see the personalities of the characters in the way their dancing progressed. “Dee is having so much fun because this is not her gig. She’s going to go to medical school. Sister’s just so comfortable and loves teasing the audience and having fun, and Sparkle is trying to find her way. To me, the most interesting thing that we did and that Fatima was able to accomplish was to keep the characters’ personalities in the dance. We didn’t go for the music video thing. We went for, a character thing.”
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