STEP begins with a view of a pressurized Baltimore: protests happening by its inhabitants, the mourning of Freddie Gray, and a city scrutinized under a microscope. Director Amanda Lipitz sets this tone as a reminder that everything that is on the news is not what it appears to be. Baltimore is a living environment; its citizens are vibrant, colorful, beautiful and Black. And it is from there that we kick off the journey of three young women who are a part of a group that wants to step out from under that microscope and into the spotlight.
STEP centers around high school seniors Blessin Giraldo, Tayla Solomon, and Cori Grainger, as they juggle a major step show victory, college applications, and everyday young adult complications. The documentary stars could not be more different: Blessin is the vivacious founder and Captain of the step team with dreams of being a dancer. Cori is the soft-spoken introvert with six siblings who is aiming towards going to John Hopkins University. Tayla is the most reserved, with a very active and driven mother. Despite their different trajectories and home-lives, these women have found a link to one another: the ability to create living art with their bodies. Stepping becomes a north star for them; it’s a beacon that calls them home when life pulls them away. Even when grades and family life become chaotic, stepping is a consistent presence in their routine.
Led by Gari “Coach G” McIntyre, the Lethal Ladies of The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women have a lot on their plates, and many of them will be the first in their families to get accepted into college. Their senior class will be the first graduating class of the high school. They are also trying to be the first step group from Baltimore to win the Bowie State step show. Following the young ladies through their day-to-day lives is an unfiltered, hilarious, and sometimes heartbreaking experience. They undergo declining grades, loss competitions, and the fight for financial aid. To see their families, their step coach, their college counselor Paula Dofat, their principal Chevonne Hall, and other Black women in their lives support them in their dreams is inspiring.
One of the standout scenes in the documentary is the step routine the ladies perform honoring the various Black men and women who have died due to police brutality. It’s the worst kept secret that when we speak of the unlawful deaths of Black people, it’s often Black women’s names and stories that get left out. To see a group of young Black women express their pain, anger and reverence through dance is a highlight. It drives home the need for Black women expressing themselves in any and all forms.
How the film is edited also strengthens the story that Lipitz is trying to convey. At first glance it may seem a bit choppy and all over the place, but the editing matches the theme of the ladies’ journeys: chaotic, kinetic, and fast-paced. Senior year activities both in and outside of the school are all intertwined with the end goal of graduation. The constant cutting to various activities within the film provides us with an experience of high school life that’s true to scale.
STEP lays the proper groundwork for you to root for these young ladies as they work towards college. You are encouraging them when they are at their low points and congratulating them at their high points. During the film, Blessin speaks of the plight of being a Black woman, saying “You have to work twice as hard. And I’m willing to work.” It’s moments like these that let you see the overarching theme of the documentary: resilience. These three young women are fighting for a title, success, and a better narrative for their city. And although their journeys are different, it’s beautiful when you realize that the resultant point is the same: you can never count Black girls out.
STEP releases in theaters on August 4th.
Joi is a Marketer, sometimey writer, sarcasm enthusiast and podcaster for Black Girls Nerds. You can also find her on Twitter (@jumpedforjoi) tweeting about random stuff.