Movies, Pop Culture

Netflix’s “Step Sisters” missed the chance to tackle a huge issue…and I feel some type of way about it

As a member of a historically black sorority, I have some thoughts.

Stepping is a type of dance associated with historically black fraternities and sororities with roots in African foot dancing.

As a member of a historically black sorority, I can attest to how important stepping is to the identity of our organizations. So when a movie like Netflix’s Step Sisters comes along, I can’t help but feel some type of way when I see an aspect of our identity being presented as something that can be written off as a novelty. And I’m not alone in my feelings about the movie.

When the trailer for the movie was released, Black Twitter made their feelings known, quickly tearing into the movie’s purpose. A question that reverberated from tweet to tweet was “Are we not allowed to have ownership over any part of our culture?

The plot of the movie centers around Jamilah, a college senior and member of a fictional historically black sorority Theta Chi Phi. She gets roped into helping Sigma Beta Beta, a predominately white sorority that has gotten into some trouble on campus, in exchange for an endorsement letter to Harvard Law School from her dean. Jamilah comes up with an idea to repair the sorority’s reputation by having them compete in a stepping competition and donate the prize money to a local community center.

As a member of an HBCU stepping is important to my identity but Netflix’s 'Step Sisters' presents it as something that can be written off as a novelty. Click To Tweet

This is where my problem with the movie lies: I don’t appreciate how Jamilah took such a prominent aspect of black Greek culture, something so unique to us, and passed it along to a group of people who have no respect or understanding of its significance. Sigma Beta Beta’s understanding of “that steppy thing” stems from movies like Stomp the Yard and the first half of the movie is littered with racial microaggressions directed towards black Greek culture.

Eventually, the Sigma Beta Beta’s animosity towards stepping dissolves but their first performance goes awry. Afterward, they’re ready to give up on the competition, but Jamilah convinces them that they still have a chance if they start taking it seriously and build their team working skills. They ultimately compete in the step competition and come in second place; a fact that is revealed after the announcer reveals to the president of Theta Chi Phi that they changed their score.

The Theta’s split their winnings with Sigma Beta Beta and the movie ends with the Theta’s and Sigma Beta Beta’s strolling (another facet of black Greek culture where we do choreographed routines while marching in a line) in a bar together.

The white sorority's understanding of 'that steppy thing; stems from movies like Stomp the Yard and the first half of the movie is littered with racial microaggressions directed towards black Greek culture. Click To Tweet

Now for the question that begs to be answered: Is this cultural appropriation?

This judge says yes, but both parties involved are at fault. It would be different if Sigma Beta Beta came up with the idea to compete in the step competition on their own, but it was Jamilah’s idea. Even though Sigma Beta Beta eventually warms up to the concept of stepping, they don’t learn anything about its history or significance. Throughout the movie, the driving force behind learning their routines and practicing so hard is so that they’ll hopefully be able to win the competition; not because they have any respect for it.

This isn’t to say that predominantly white organizations should be completely barred from stepping.

At my university, we have an event where we help the predominately white organizations create their own step and stroll routines. However, the main stipulation is that they aren’t allowed to do these strolls and step routines after that night; thus preserving the fact that these are both things heavily associated with black Greek culture. 

Throughout the movie, their driving force behind learning their routines and practicing so hard is so that they’ll hopefully be able to win the competition; not because they have any sort of reverence or respect for it. Click To Tweet

I wish Step Sisters had taken the time to educate Sigma Beta Beta on the significance of what they were doing, even just a simple history lesson, the movie would have been better received.