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Film review: ‘Step’ offers hope and inspiration

Colette Greenstein | 8/3/2017, 6 a.m.
There’s drama, action, comedy, conflict and suspense. It has all the elements of a great movie but here’s the thing: ...
Blessin Giraldo (center), Cori Granger (on the right) and the “Lethal Ladies of BLYSW.” William Gray © 2017, Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

“Step” is one of the best movies of the year, the one that you’ve been waiting for but didn’t know it. There’s drama, action, comedy, conflict and suspense. It has all the elements of a great movie but here’s the thing: It’s not just a movie. It’s a true story based on a year in the lives of real people that will leave you wanting more.

If you go

“Step” opens in theaters nationwide this Friday, August 4.

The inspirational film follows a high school step team at The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW), whose mission is to send every graduate on to higher education. Directed by Tony Award-winning producer Amanda Lipitz (“The Humans”), the documentary revolves around three seniors on the step team — Blessin Giraldo, Cori Grainger and Tayla Solomon — who call themselves “Lethal Ladies.” All are chasing their ultimate dream: win a step championship and get accepted into college.

Lipitz, who has known the girls since they were 11 years old, has been involved with the charter school since its founding in 2009 by her mother Brenda Brown Rever, a Baltimore activist. One of the reasons Lipitz wanted to make the film was because she “wanted to change the conversation about Baltimore, and that’s what I went to their families with when we first started talking about it in the 10th grade.”

Determination

During their junior year, Blessin Giraldo, the founder and leader of the step team, missed 53 days of school and subsequently was kicked off. “I watched these young women pull her back in and I watched the school pull her back in, and it was incredible,” said Lipitz. “I kept filming and Freddie Gray was killed, and I watched my hometown burn on national television. I watched that mom pull her son out of the riot and I thought ‘That’s one of my mothers.’ I just thought ‘I gotta do this.’ We raced to get all the permissions in place and to raise the money.” During their senior year, Lipitz and her team “hit the ground running.”

The documentary has received rave reviews since it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Inspirational Filmmaking. That was a total shock to Lipitz. “The film premiered that night at 5:30, on the day of the Women’s March. I remember looking at my agent and producer and the opening started, and it was women rising up and women protesting and women coming together. I was like ‘That was this morning!’ For me, it’s just never been a better time like this for a movie to come out.”

The documentary not only offers a glimpse into the daily lives of these young women and their families, but it’s also a reflection of the many issues facing today’s youth in neighborhoods and schools all around the country. By virtue of the topics it addresses, the film steps into the national fray over education, race and inequality. “I’m really grateful that people are talking about it, that it’s creating a platform for people to talk about it and for young people to talk about it,” Lipitz says.

“Step” packs a punch on so many levels and will touch you to the core, maybe even making you reach for some tissue. It also will have you cheering and rooting for the girls to succeed, both on the step floor and in the classroom.

“No one expected this movie to do what it has done. To sell for four million dollars is unheard of. I hope the movie makes $100 million,” said Lipitz. “I want to break box office records because I want to show movie studios and the world that people want to see stories like this: a documentary about 19 young women in Baltimore City. People want to hear what they have to say.”