Jamilah Bishop (Megalyn Echikunwoke) seems to excel at everything: She’s president of her sorority, captain of the step dance crew, liaison to the college dean and a star student who is on her way to Harvard Law School.But when Jamilah is asked to teach a misbehaving, mostly white sorority how to step, success seems impossible. Without telling her own sorority sisters, Jamilah begins training rivals Sigma Beta Beta (SBB) for the “Steptacular” competitive dance competition.
The film stars Megalyn Echikunwoke, Matt McGorry, Naturi Naughton, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Marque Richardson, Eden Sher, Lyndon Smith, Gage Golightly, Nia Jervier and Alessandra Torresani.
Directed by Charles Stone III (Drumline, Paid in Full) and written by Chuck Hayward (Dear White People), who also serves as an executive producer, Step Sisters is produced by Emmy Award® winner Lena Waithe (“Master of None”), Ben Cory Jones (“Insecure”) and Matt Alvarez (Straight Outta Compton). Jeffrey Soros and Simon Horsman also serve as producers, and Patrick Murray and Josh Reinhold are executive producers on the film
The Knockturnal: So I love both your characters cause you guys are both kinda battling the same issue that many black people deal with that you wouldn’t think and that’s not being “black enough.” So I just wanted to know, why do you think this is still such an issue?
Nia Javier: I’m confused as to why it is. I think that so often people attach their blackness to things that they think are negative so when these positive things are applied to us as a people why do they think that that then means that it takes our blackness away? Why should that be acquainted to whiteness? Why can’t that just be black excellence or just human excellence? I think that the type of music that we listen to or the way we speak or if we’re college educated or well mannered, I don’t think that should be acquainted to whiteness. It’s very weird to me.
Marque Richardson: It’s weird, its effing weird and a lot of that I feel is rooted in self-hate.
Nia Javier: Absolutely and colorism. Yes, time’s up on that, time’s up on self-hate!
The Knockturnal: You were considered “whitewashed Barbie” and you liked The Cars and Jamilah thought that was just “too white” and so I would like to know, what do you guys enjoy that might get your black card revoked?
Marque Richardson: Mayonnaise.
The Knockturnal: Is mayonnaise a white thing?
Marque Richardson: Well growing up I used to think that white people just had a bowl of mayonnaise on the table and like milk, glasses of milk. You always see it on TV like you gotta eat your dinner and drink your milk.
Nia Javier: Oh wow! I didn’t grow up drinking milk either but I thought that was because I’m West Indian.
Marque Richardson: It probably is.
Nia Javier: I like classical music and I’m a musical theater kid.
Marque Richardson: There’s African like classical music.
Nia Javier: Oh absolutely but I think that people don’t think that it’s “black.” I like hip hop too like I went to a Kendrick concert, like I’m just a worldly person.
Marque Richardson: And you know what was odd for me, not to go too deep but in high school or whatever I did all this stuff and it was never like the black kids that told me that I wasn’t black enough it was like the white kids in my AP classes and I’m like the only black kid in there and they’re like, oh you think you’re blah blah blah…
Nia Javier: And it was the opposite for me, it was the black kids. It didn’t bother me though. It was sort of like they laughed at it, it was like funny or like I get the double take. If you see me and I haven’t opened my mouth and then I do and like I see them looking, I’m like oh it’s, I think maybe it’s my voice too.
Marque Richardson: Cause they don’t know Diahann Carroll. They don’t know class, grace, black excellence…they don’t know.
The Knockturnal: So Marque, your character is actually the complete opposite than your character in Dear White People. It really is. So I wanna know which character is more like you and which was more fun to play?
Marque Richardson: Just depends on the day. It depends on the day, what’s going on in the world, to be honest, Reggie in Dear White People, I feel so blessed, I feel like I’m playing a superhero and Kevin in this movie is the closest thing to my normal self, I guess he’s a little crazy, I’m a little crazy. So here we are.
The Knockturnal: And then you are kind of a similar character from Dear White People so I wanted to know is this close to who you are in real life?
Nia Javier: No, I think that Kelsey is Nia on steroids but I think that Saundra would eat Kelsey alive. Saundra is just mean and bitchy, she’s much more confident than Kelsey and I think that Kelsey is naïve and a bit more sheepish. I love them both. Kelsey is quirkier but Saundra’s mean.
The Knockturnal: I really liked the characters, especially Matt McGorry who plays Dane. He says something really big; he’s throwing out all the facts in the movie. When he says that black people can’t be racist towards white people, do you find any truth in that?
Ben Cory Jones: It’s a difficult question. To say the word “can’t” I don’t think that’s truth. I do think that racism is about power in my opinion. I think that you have to break down the power structure that allows people to be racist like am I preventing you from living your life, achieving your goals because I’m simply judging you on the color of your skin, is what racism is to me and so his line in the film is one that we debated a lot but I think that’s it’s important to be there because I do think that there’s certain people that believe black people can’t be racist but I like to see what the power structures are behind it. I sort of am on the cusp of figuring out if that is a true statement or not. Personally, in my own life, I think if you’re withholding something from someone because you have power over them then that is racism and everyone can be subject to that.
The Knockturnal: It’s cool because it’s a bit of a modern-day Bring it On with a heavier message but what would you like audiences to take away from this movie?
Ben Cory Jones: We set out to make a film that was a broad base, fun, and a comedy but we knew that if we’re putting this movie out in 2018 we can’t not talk about the issues of race. We can’t not give voices to the black Greek system to the white Greek system; I like to say that this movie is an equal opportunity “call outer.” Like everybody gets called out in this film, nobody is left unscathed and I think that was important for us because there was apart of us that ya know there was a lot of white sorority bashing in the film, they’re vapid or they’re this and there was some black fraternity/sorority bashing and I also think that black people we can’t be so sensitive that we can’t take critiques on how the outside views us and I think we just wanted to make sure that everybody got called out in this film in a way just to show that we all have a lot to learn from each other and we all can exchange ideas and exchange parts of our culture in order to bridge the gap.
The Knockturnal: What would you say you’re most proud of with creating this film?
Ben Cory Jones: There’s a lot of things that make me proud about this film. We shot this film on the campus where I went to college, my alma mater Morehouse College. I’m really proud of the great music that we had, we had Raphael Saadiq come in and do a lot of music compositions for us, we had great music supervisors, we had a great director and I am really proud of our actresses, none of them knew how to step, they had to learn how to step. They were given something like thirty days in Atlanta to learn all this stepping and a lot of their process behind the scenes of learning how to step mirrored what happens in the film. You start off at a zero and hopefully by the end you’re at some, ya know at an 8 or 9 or 10 and these actresses as they were learning how to step they bonded as actresses, as friends like they’re all still friends still this day because they went through this painstaking process of having to learn how to step, having to learn how to dance, having to be an actor and know your lines and be on set so my hat goes off to them. I don’t know how they did it. We had great choreographers, AJ and Binky who were just phenomenal and we hire choreographers with the notion that you guys have to teach novices how to dance and dance on a huge stage, so I’m really proud of them.