There’s a handful of movies considered required-viewing to maintain one’s cultural cred: Do the Right Thing, Shaft, Boomerang, The Color Purple. But tell someone you haven’t seen Sparkle, the 1976 ode to doo-wop starring Irene Cara and Philip Michael Thomas, and you might as well hand over your “Black card.” Luckily, the remake of Sparkle arrives in theaters next August.
After 16 years, music powerhouse Whitney Houston returns to the big screen with a dual role in Sparkle: both co-producer and star. Houston’s take on Effie, the downtrodden, single mother to a trio of singing sisters, gets some 21st century tweaking. “This mother’s kind of fly,” says Houston from the Detroit set. But the remake has been bittersweet for her and co-producer Debra Martin Chase (the duo first partnered up for 1996’s The Preacher’s Wife).
Eleven years ago, they were in talks to adapt their favorite childhood film with rising R&B star Aaliyah, but, says Houston, “God needed her more.” After Aaliyah was killed in a plane crash in August 2001, Houston and Chase shelved the project. “We were so, so saddened by it,” recalls Houston. “And then 10 years later, to the date, Debra calls me and said, ‘Whitney, you won’t believe this but they want Sparkle.’”
This time around, they enlisted a new class of Hollywood actors. American Idol winner Jordin Sparks takes top billing as Sparkle. Mike Epps makes a surprising — and convincing — turn as street hustler Stix. The rest of the cast includes Derek Luke, Tika Sumpter, Omari Hardwick and Carmen Ejogo. “Everybody is so great,” says Houston of her superb cast. When asked about how well Ejogo is portraying the drug-addled Sister, both Houston and Chase break with the niceties and turn effusive. “Let’s stop there,” says Houston, waving her arm to punctuate her praise. “Carmen’s wearing Sister out!”
And what do Houston’s on-set daughters think of working with her?
Jordin Sparks can hardly contain her giddiness about starring opposite one of her icons. “Whitney’s very motherly, very nurturing, very sweet. It’s been so much fun being around her,” says Sparks, minutes before the day’s rehearsal. “I think it’s actually a relationship that will last after this movie is over.” Houston agrees: “Oh, they are my babies. There’s lots of good love from the set, really it is.” Much like our love of Sparkle.