“We are considered the bottom of the barrel,” says one African-American woman in the movie “Step,” as she describes what it feels like to be a black woman in America.
The documentary “Step” places its focus on young African-American women, one of this country’s most overlooked demographics in terms of lead characters in film. The last widely released film that featured such strong, female African-American lead characters was 2016’s “Hidden Figures.”
“Step” follows 17- and 18-year old girls attending the all-girl Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women (BLSYW) — a college preparatory institution providing its students the opportunity to attend a charter school that boasts uniquely high graduation rates and equally high placement rates for colleges.
“Step” follows several character narratives, but most of the focus is placed on senior Blessin Giraldo, an energetic, peppy young woman responsible for starting the step dance team at BLSYW. Blessin describes “stepping” as an empowering form of her self-expression. We have the opportunity to meet several girls on this team who feel the same way about stepping as Blessin. Most of these young woman use stepping as a therapeutic way to escape many of the realities that they experience while living in the inner city.
Not only do these young women face oppression, racial profiling and other circumstances that are part of the black-experience in the United States, many of them come from low-income, single-mother families. One of the young women, for instance, has to choose between eating the last meal in the home or sharing it with her younger sibling. Another, whose aspiration is to go to Johns Hopkins University, has to consider other college opportunities because of the unaffordable college tuition.
The film follows these girls through their senior year, from their competitions on the step team to their struggles in their personal and family lives. Director Amanda Lipitz strings together a captivating tale of what happens when a group of strong, African-American women face varying types of adversity.