HOLLYWOOD – A teenager's dream of being a music star comes true, but her path to success is filled with heartbreak. Sparkle is an age-old story from a 1976 hit. It has been remade starring American Idol winner Jordin Sparks and the late Whitney Houston in her final film role.
It's Detroit in 1968 and Motown is winning fans around the world. A teenager nicknamed Sparkle aches for her songs to be part of that, and she convinces her sisters to join her in a local club's talent contest.
Thanks to Sparkle's songs, the sisters become a hit. But they have to defy their mother who long ago saw her own dreams come crashing down.
Whitney Houston plays the stern but loving mother and is the film's executive producer. Houston died of an accidental drug overdose shortly after filming was completed. Jordin Sparks, who stars as Sparkle, says Houston acknowledged the parallels with her own life.
"We never had the conversation about any of the stuff that she had gone through, but it was almost like she had this [attitude]: 'yeah, I went through that and I'm here now and that's okay and I'm going to keep going.' I thought that was great just not to be ashamed of anything that happens," Sparks recalls.
As in the real world of soul, gospel music and faith influence the characters' stories. And like the original film, this new version features mostly black singers and actors. There are significant differences too. The sisters in the 1976 film rose from poverty in New York's Harlem, while the new version has them living a comfortable middle class life in Detroit. But director Selim Akil sees it as a truly American story.
"Motown was not exclusively black folks' music," the director notes. "It was America's music first and then it was the world's music. Detroit was a metropolitan city, not just because of African Americans, but because of Americans. To see these people as middle class and their community as prosperous is a part of Americana that all Americans should embrace."
Sparkle co-stars New Yorker Tika Sumpter and London-born Carmen Ejogo as Sparkle's sisters. Comedian Mike Epps has the very un-funny role of an abusive boyfriend. And Derek Luke is the loyal manager who guides the sisters to success. The film was shot on location in Detroit.