How She Move
Raya is a bright girl. She has cracked through the hard shell of her crime-ridden community and is thriving in a private school—thanks in large part to her hard-working immigrant parents (who moved to the U.S. from the Caribbean). She dreams of graduating with honors and going on to med school. But those hopes are dashed when her drug-addicted older sister dies of an overdose after a long stay in rehab. The family is emotionally and financially drained, and Raya must come home and go back to her former high school.
She finds the old place and her old friends to be pretty much just as she left them—rough-edged and going nowhere. But Raya is determined that this turn of events will not lead to a dead end. So she starts studying for special scholarship exams that can get her back on track.
In the meantime, Mom and Dad are crumbling under the strain of loss and debt. And Raya's onetime friends—in particular, the hardboiled Michelle—see Raya as stuck up and are more than happy to beat their version of the truth back into her. To top things off, the scholarships fall through.
Panicked, Raya looks for another way out and learns of a $50,000 step dance competition that could pay her college tuition. Since only the male crews are winning the big money, she realizes that she must fight her way to becoming the sole female member of an impressive local crew (the Jane Street Junta) and help them win this competition.
Sparks fly between her and just about everyone around her, but this girl isn't just smart, she's got some serious dancing skills. And she will get where she wants to go. No matter whom she needs to step around to get there.
Raya speaks of her plan to "study hard in private school and study harder in med school." The film points to other kids, too, who are working to gain something from their high school education. One 9th grader, for example, enjoys reading Tolstoy.
When considering good and bad choices, Raya wisely says, "One moment changes a million after it." After accidentally embarrassing Michelle in math class, Raya moves to apologize.
[Spoiler Warning] To avoid suspension from school (and elimination from potential scholarship consideration), Raya agrees to tutor the mean-spirited Michelle. And the two eventually reconcile. Raya's parents have obviously sacrificed a great deal to make ends meet and give Raya (and their older daughter Pam) every opportunity for success in life. After Pam's death, emotional strain causes Mom and Dad to separate. But in the end, they find strength in one another and reunite.
Raya's mom expresses concern over the potentially negative influences of the stepping crowd, and she confronts Raya when her daughter lies to her. Raya selflessly gives up something of great value to her to help her friends.
When Raya tells her mother that she thinks she'll receive her scholarship, Mom breaks down in tears, saying, "Thank you, Jesus." A pawn shop owner jokes, "The Lord giveth and the junkie pawneth it away."
Raya walks in on a girl in a skimpy dress who's straddling a shirtless guy on his bed. It's implied that they were having sex.
Low-cut, form-fitting tops are the norm for the majority of young females. On a number of occasions, Michelle and Raya wear cleavage-baring, brief tank tops or tube tops. One all-girl dance team is dressed in midriff-baring gold lamé tops and skintight jeans. (The camera makes a point of ogling their backsides.) Another team wears tight tops and hot pants. One girl wears a T-shirt emblazoned with a mildly suggestive (racially oriented) slogan.
Dance moves include a variety of provocative (male and female) sexual moves, including hip-thrusting, bottom-shaking and crotch-cupping. Raya and the leader of the JSJ crew, Bishop, kiss after a big win.
A step-off between Raya and Michelle degenerates into a fistfight (with blows to bodies and faces). Bishop throws his brother to the ground at the end of an argument.
Raya wrestles with a girl to retrieve a locket from her that used to be her grandmother's. (She fails.) Later, Michelle presents the locket to Raya with a clump of the girl's hair caught in its chain. During one dance routine, the crew uses a car as a platform, blowing out the vehicle's windows on the final stomp.
Crude or Profane Language
One spoken and one mouthed f-word make appearances along with almost two-dozen s-words. A handful each of the words "d--n," "a--" and "b--ch" are also in evidence. God's name is misused a few times. Someone spits out a racial slur (the n-word).
Drug and Alcohol Content
After Pam dies, we see Raya's father passed out drunk on the couch with a bottle of Jack Daniel's next to him on the coffee table. Raya seeks out Michelle in an old trashed-out building and walks by a group of guys who appear to be smoking marijuana. She tells Michelle, "You start making people like this a habit, and then you're the habit."
Several "tough" kids, including Michelle, are seen smoking cigarettes. Lots of young people cram into a hotel room for a party—most are drinking and smoking.
Other Negative Elements
Raya lies to her mother about the scholarship tests and later lies about going to a college consortium, when, in fact, she's traveling to a dance contest.
For those unfamiliar with step dancing, think of it as a third generation offspring of tap dance—if gymnastics, military marching, synchronized choreography and hip-hop suggestiveness were all a part of the family tree. It's a very entertaining percussive dance that involves the whole body and includes hand claps and spoken words as a kind of rhythmic accompaniment.
It's also an activity popular enough to have kept last year's Stomp the Yard in the Top 10 at the box office for six weeks. How She Move isn't a sequel, but it's certainly what's next.
Beyond featuring gifted dancers and slick choreography, though, a step dance movie must have a story. And that part of How She Move doesn't quite sparkle the way some of the stepping does. It amounts to a sports flick tale that we've seen a hundred times about an underdog team that must fight its way to an impossible win.
We're supposed to closely identify with Raya's struggle between ambition and loyalty. But, while her self-betterment goals are praiseworthy, she comes off as a self-serving soul. So when she makes her rather contrived turn at the end, we don't really connect with her or the lesson. Even "good guy" Bishop is annoyingly egocentric. In fact, the whole crew's a pretty self-centered, foul-mouthed lot until it's time to wrap the flick up with a happy ending.
The two exceptions are Raya's parents. Their feelings of pain and confusion over the loss of their daughter are briefly examined, but palpable. And their ultimate reconciliation scene is surprisingly resonant. It's too bad the film wasn't about them—with a few kids and a little step dancing on the side instead of in the center.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Rutina Wesley as Raya; Dwain Murphy as Bishop; Tracey Armstrong as Michelle; Brennan Gademans as Quake; Clé Bennett as Garvey
Ian Iqbal Rashid ( )