A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
and favour is better than silver or gold.
Although a lot of fans of hip hop and step dance have condemned this film as white Hollywood’s con cession to black audiences (though actually the film was produced and shot in Canada), I found the story compelling, even if it follows the usual ghetto and show biz formula of ghetto dweller triumphing over great odds—and the moves of the dancers are something to behold. Incredible what discipline, practice, and strong human will can get the body to do!
When the sister of Raya Green (Rutina Wesley) dies of a drug overdose, the latter has to drop out of the expensive Seaton Academy. Without the extra income brought in by the sister, Raya’s Jamaican immigrant parents can no longer afford her tuition. This is a great disappointment to both the girl and her parents, as they saw the exclusive high school as her ticket to a better life. Raya is not received well by her former classmates at the public high school, especially by Michelle (Tre Armstrong), obviously resentful of the special opportunity Raya had had for a while. They perceive her as selfish and stuck up.
How Raya manages to grow in character and rediscover her Steppin’ “moves” and break into the all male dance group Jane Street Junta (JSJ) can be enjoyed by youth and adults alike. The JSJ is led by the boy attracted to her, Bishop (Dwain Murphy. Neither he nor his fellow dancers are positive about a girl joining them, thus raising the theme of male sexism. But the story is more complicated, with Raya needing to discover how self-centered her dreams have been, and also needing to take into consideration the importance of the team and of team work. Also, Mom, of course, is opposed to Raya “wasting” so much time on such a frivolous thing as ‘steppin’. There is, of course, a Step dancing contest with a prize so large that it could become Raya’s ticket back to Seaton, if—but then you know the formula. The various acts at the climactic contest, of which we see far more of than the usual snippets in such films, are well worth sitting through.
1) How is Raya’s story typical of other such ghetto films? Some have accused the filmmakers as playing to a white audience and thus dumbing down ghetto life: what do you think?
2) How is education still an important means of a poor person expanding one’s horizon and finding a better life? Compare this film to The Great Debaters.
3) How does Raya grow in maturity? What about the male characters?
4) What might this film say to you if you were a ghetto dweller? Is the ending applicable for most ghetto dwellers, or is the prospect for most people of winning the prize money akin to winning the lottery? In other words, do you think this film is a ghetto fairy tale or a slice of real life?