WayBack Wednesdays (On a Thursday): SPARKLE

Quote of the Day: “Living in a world of ghetto life/Everybody around seems so uptight…” — “Giving Him Something He Can Feel” by Aretha Franklin

Well folks, now that the great celebrity photo op Inauguration business is behind us, maybe we can get some actual stuff done! Yesterday I wasn’t able to post my usual Wednesday WayBack Machine, cause I was so crazy making up for all the stuff I didn’t get done Tuesday while I was sitting on my couch perched in front of the TV like a proud grinning-and-sobbing fool, so I’m posting it today and hoping you enjoy it as much as I do.


Way back in 1976–before Dreamgirls–there was a movie about three girls in a struggling singing group called Sparkle. A friend of mine calls it the True Ghetto Classic. Not because it takes place in the ‘hood, but because anyone you ask about it gets all head-rollingly old school about how much they love it. I love it because it blends so many movie genres it could make your head spin. It’s part blaxploitation flick, part backstage melodrama, part musical, part family saga. Inner city kids with a yen to perform get involved in the music business and all their dreams come true as they realize the nightmares of real life. (If you don’t remember the movie, I know you remember the soundtrack featuring Aretha Franklin singing some of Curtis Mayfield’s finest radio-ready r&b?)

Sparkle starred the insanely great actress as Mary Alice, playing mother to the three girls who make up a Harlem singing group: the beautiful and tragic Sister, played by the lovely and talented Lonette McKee; Delores (Dwan Smith); and of course, babysister Sparkle, played by a post-Aaron Love Angela, pre-Fame, Irene Cara.

The flick was the first screenplay by Joel Schumacher, the director of some of my personal favorite Hollywood pulp fictions like St. Elmo’s Fire, The Lost Boys, Flatliners, and the VERY underrated Flawless. (And who became, he told me in a fun interview I did with him upon the DVD release of Sparkle in 2007, the “go-to” black writer in Hollywood for a few years after writing Sparkle and Car Wash…Schumacher’s a Jewish guy from New York City, by the way).

Schumacher told me in the interview that there was a whole lot more to Sparkle when he first wrote it (“after flaming out of art school”) in the 70s because he loved r&b and knew people just like Sparkle and nem while he was growing up. The movie in his mind was meant to be a real epic and so much got cut out along the way. Says Schumacher: “The Dorian Harewood character [Levi] was arrested, and he was in jail, and he found God, and he became a Jesse Jackson-like figure, and then, of course, the Phillip Michael Thomas character [Stix] was my version of Berry Gordy. It wasn’t based on Berry, but it was influenced by that. And Sparkle certainly wasn’t based on Diana Ross, because Sparkle is an innocent, whereas Diana has always been very driven, and ambitious—and I mean that in the best possible sense—whereas Sparkle is a child, she’s a pure soul in a world of turmoil around her, and remains true to herself. And Delores, the third sister, who gets very smart; she became political, and she goes down south and becomes an Angela Davis type figure.” (By the by, Schumacher was the original director of Dreamgirls when it was in the pipeline years ago–and in my opinion, should have directed it, but it wasn’t meant to be…His dream cast at the time? Lauryn Hill for Deena; Don Cheadle for James Thunder Early; and Kelly Price, “with that fabulous voice,” as Effie. “Maybe Sparkle is my Dreamgirls,” he told me. “I just sat down and wrote what I loved. I never thought I’d be talking to a journalist about it thirty years later!”

So there’s some background for you to savor as you watch some scenes from Sparkle and think about that Saturday afternoon you first saw it with your people at that local around-the-way movie house (in my case, the Hempstead on Fulton Street), probably paired with a re-release of Amazing Grace, starring Moms Mabley or Let’s Do it Again.

“JUMP”: Youthful enthusiasm; Sister steps up to prove who the real star in the group is…

“HOOKED ON YOUR LOVE”: The group is a hit, and the hits WILL keep on coming, poor Sister…

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Filed under flicks, WayBack Machine

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