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Sparkle (1976 film)

Directed by Sam O'Steen
Produced by Howard Rosenman
Written by Joel Schumacher
Howard Rosenman
Starring Irene Cara
Philip M. Thomas
Lonette McKee
Dwan Smith
Mary Alice
Dorian Harewood
Tony King
Music by Curtis Mayfield
Cinematography Bruce Surtees
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
April 7, 1976
Running time
98 min.
Language English

Sparkle is a 1976 American film directed by Sam O'Steen and released by Warner Bros. Pictures. Inspired by The Supremes, Sparkle is a period film set in Harlem, New York during the late 1950s and early 1960s which follows the rough lives and careers of singer Sparkle Williams and her family and friends.

The film stars Irene Cara, Philip Michael Thomas, Lonette McKee, Dwan Smith, Mary Alice, Dorian Harewood, and Tony King. Curtis Mayfield served as the composer and producer of Sparkle's songs and score.

Plot synopsis

The movie starts at 1958's Harlem, New York. The Williams sisters – Sister (Lonette McKee), Dolores (Dwan Smith), and Sparkle (Irene Cara) – are singers in their local church's teenagers' choir along with their friends Stix (Philip Michael Thomas) and Levi (Dorian Harewood). The girls' mother, Effie (Mary Alice), works hard as a maid for the Gerber family at Long Island and struggles to keep her girls, especially the "high-spirited" Sister, safe. Stix, a budding songwriter who is in love with Sparkle, wants to start a group, and arranges the five of them into a quintet called "The Hearts". The Hearts enter a local talent show contest, which they win with the help of Sister's stage appeal. Shortly afterwards, however, Levi drops out of the group so that he can become an important man in the operations of local gangster Satin (Tony King).

Stix decides to repackage the group as an all-girl trio, appointing Sister lead singer and reducing his role in the act to manager and songwriter. The girls, now known as "Sister & the Sisters", debut at the seedy Shan-Doo Club; their immediate success gains them a position as regular performers there. Satin, invited to the show by Levi, takes up with Sister, who leaves home to move in with him. Sister begins showing up at the Shan-Doo with bruises from Satin's abuse and begins taking cocaine. When Dolores learns that Satin has gotten her hooked on drugs, she plots revenge, coming on to one of Satin's flunkies in order to set up the kingpin. Dolores calls the police to let them know when and where Satin's next drug pick-up will be, but Levi is the one caught in the sting. Regretful and weary of life in Harlem, Dolores packs up and leaves home in order to pursue her dreams of racial equality.

Sister's drug use and her life in the "big time" caused her to relinquish her position as lead singer of the group, and a frustrated Stix gives up on music. He leaves Harlem to work in construction upstate, breaking Sparkle's heart in the process. Several months later, Sister has died of a drug overdose, and Stix reconciles with Sparkle after her funeral. By this time, he has moved back to New York and gained employment with a record label, and offers to produce Sparkle as a solo star. He borrows money from Effie's employer Max Gerber (Paul Lambert) to fund a recording session, and Sparkle's first single becomes a smash hit. Stix lands Sparkle a gig at Carnegie Hall as Ray Charles' opening act, but finds himself kidnapped by Gerber's partners in the Mafia for refusing to agree to a partnership in owning the rights to Sparkle's fame. Despite being threatened with death, however, Stix refuses to give in, and the impressed Gerber lets Stix go free. Stix arrives at Carnegie Hall just in time to see Sparkle finish her set.


Of the people who appeared in the movie, Irene Cara became the film's breakout star: she went on to record many chart topping singles. Lonette McKee went on to other TV and film appearances with Richard Pryor, including playing Denzel Washington's on screen mother in Malcolm X, and Dorian Harewood and Philip Michael Thomas did more TV and film appearances. Thomas would be famous as Ricardo Tubbs on the TV show Miami Vice.


The film performed disastrously at the box office and received the harshest reaction from critics of any film about people of African-American descent, holding on to 13% on Rotten Tomatoes. Dave Kehr stated that the film was "[a] hackneyed, ho-hum 1976 feature about a black girl group, clearly modeled on the Supremes." FilmFour stated that "[as] drab as it is, Sparkle's worth renting for Lorette McKee's performance and the cast renditions of Mayfield's songs. But if you're going to buy anything it should be the soundtrack album." However, The Onion's AV Club gave it a B- grade, calling it "a rags-to-riches story that doesn't miss a stop along the well-trod ghetto-to-musical-charts path, but makes its journey with tuneful conviction."

Soundtrack album



External links