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“Step Sisters” trips over its own message

The social commentary fails to drive its point home with shallow characters and lessons.

Megalyn+Echikunwoke+plays+Jamilah%2C+a+sorority+sister+in+the+Netflix+original+%22Step+Sisters.%22+
Megalyn Echikunwoke plays Jamilah, a sorority sister in the Netflix original

Megalyn Echikunwoke plays Jamilah, a sorority sister in the Netflix original "Step Sisters."

Courtesy of Netlix

Courtesy of Netlix

Megalyn Echikunwoke plays Jamilah, a sorority sister in the Netflix original "Step Sisters."

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Witty and problematic, Netflix’s “Step Sisters” nudges the issue of cultural appropriation.

The Netflix original attempts to follow in the footsteps of shows such as “Dear White People” and act as a platform for difficult but necessary conversations, but fails to drive its point home.

The film follows successful college student Jamilah (Megalyn Echikunwoke) on the road to Harvard law school. She seems to have her life figured out — she’s the president of her African American sorority Theta Psi Chi, on her way to her dream school and dating a “woke” white guy.

Her life comes crashing down when her parents tell her that they won’t be endorsing her for Harvard and she’s forced to look to the college’s dean (Robert Curtis Brown) for a letter of recommendation. This is how she finds herself coaching Sigma Beta Beta, a predominately white sorority, traditional black fraternity step dancing. Cue the racial tension.

The premise of the movie revolves around Jamilah struggling to feel like she belongs with the people around her. This feeling is only exacerbated by the divide between the two sororities once Theta feels like SBB is stealing a piece of culture that is essential to their traditions. Jamilah finds herself putting on two different versions on herself to please the people around her. She feels reduced to “the help” when around SBB, and like she needs to prove her black-card around Theta.

This internal struggle is the most fleshed out in the movie; while the issues of cultural appropriation and interracial relations get introduced, they leave the audience with a feeling of incompleteness. There are many pivotal scenes where you expect the film to make its claim on the issues, but were quickly undercut by an attempt at being humorous.

Many of the relationships between characters seem superficial, with rivalries and clashes that rise without explanation then are resolved just as quickly. Within the first two minutes of the movie, there is a painfully awkward exchange between the all too enthusiastic Beth (Eden Sher) when she is introducing herself to Jamilah’s sorority sister, Aisha (Naturi Naughton).

The feeling of animosity from the Theta sisters towards Beth and SBB as a whole is pointed out many times throughout the film, but the two groups rarely address the actual issue of cultural appropriation with one another and when they do it feels disingenuous. Theta is almost made to look like the mean girls clique while SBB is the innocent, misunderstood group just trying to get by in a post-racial college environment.

This comes to a turning point when SBB is performing at the regional step dance competition and are being ridiculed before performing and Jamilah gives them the “this is what black people feel like all the time” speech. It loses its punch however, when it’s immediately followed by a motivational speech and mediocre dance routine.

The film tries to support the Greek system and the idea of women supporting each other, but it’s hard to believe while the two main sororities are going head to head with each other the entire time.

It felt like a watered-down version of “Dear White People,” especially since the film uses many of the same actors playing the same characters — the hopeless romantic, the whitewashed black girl. But where “Dear White People” was self-aware, “Step Sisters” felt shallow and preachy.

The film was well-intended and certainly created an opportunity for good conversations to take place, but it lacked the resolution to join the genre of a social commentaries.

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