Subjects of new documentary are spreading awareness about the film and their lives
The stars of “Step” are spending their summer on a nationwide publicity tour, talking up the documentary about their senior year of high school at fancy hotels and attending screenings of the film coast to coast. But they haven’t gone Hollywood just yet.
“They always give us these menus, and you’ve gotta use Google to search and find out what kind of food it is — Italian, Mediterranean. We’re like, ‘we prefer chains,’ ” says Blessin Giraldo, one of three stars of the film, seated at a long table inside a suite at Birmingham’s Townsend Hotel last month. Along with her co-stars, Cori Grainger and Tayla Solomon, she’s just finished up lunch: Popeye’s chicken, chosen in part because of Metro Detroit’s dearth of Chick-fil-A options.
The girls were in Chicago the day before and are headed to Dallas later in the day. Also on their itinerary this summer: New York, Seattle, Miami, Toronto, Phoenix and more. They’re all wearing sweatshirts they’ve picked up along the way. “Oh look, we’re cheesy!” says Giraldo, realizing they’re wearing apparel from San Francisco and Chicago. “We’re always like, ‘oh, can we go to the gift shops, please?’ ”
The summer tour is quite a change for the girls, who grew up in Baltimore. “Step,” which opens Friday in area theaters, follows them through their senior year in high school at the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, where they were on their school’s step dance team, and tracks their individual pursuits to get into college.
It’s a moving story that touches on the universality of the teenage experience, along with the specifics of growing up in the shadow of the Black Lives Matter movement not far removed from Freddie Gray’s death at the hands of Baltimore police. It’s a story about teamwork, friendship, parenting and the importance of a strong support staff, and the film’s 83 minute running time was winnowed down from some 400 hours of footage captured by director (and Broadway veteran) Amanda Lipitz.
The girls have been riding the wave of the film since it premiered at January’s Sundance Film Festival and picked up a special jury prize for inspirational filmmaking.
Giraldo stands out in the film and is the most talkative of her co-stars, who are all 18. She says she doesn’t feel like she’s on the road selling a movie. “I feel like we’re starting a movement,” she says.
“Step” touches on issues such as creative arts funding, police brutality and the importance of higher education, along with the dreams of boys and girls from urban communities to grow up to be lawyers, dancers, musicians and doctors.
“We can’t blame people for not knowing, it’s because you can only see and know what you know, what you experience. So a lot of people don’t know about those things,” Giraldo says. “We’re using the movie and our voices to talk about all of those things, to educate people while we entertain them. That’s the best way to keep people engaged and want to hear what you have to say.”
The film gives the girls a platform to speak to students at schools across the country and around the world, says Solomon.
“We can talk to kids that have similar stories to us,” she says. “There’s a Cori, there’s a Blessin, there’s a Tayla everywhere.”
In the fall, the girls will return to their respective schools for their sophomore year — Grainger is a student at Johns Hopkins University, Solomon attends Alabama A&M and Giraldo is at Baltimore’s Coppin State University — but the “Step” experience has been a game changer for all of them.
“In my mind, I was already like a rockstar, so this is me living the real dream,” Giraldo says, flashing a giant smile. “I feel like the luckiest girl in the world.”
Rated PG for thematic elements and some language
Running time: 83 minutes
In theaters Friday