STEP, an inspirational documentary about a high school step team’s dual quest to become the first in the school’s history to win a step championship, and the first in their families to attend college, opened in theaters on Aug. 4, 2017. With Baltimore as its backdrop, the film chronicles the real-life journey of a group of students at the Baltimore Leadership School For Young Women (BLSYW).
Prior to opening in theaters, a red carpet premiere for the film was held Monday, July 24, 2017 at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway (Parkway Theatre) located at 5 W. North Ave.
The film, which was directed by Amanda Lipitz, has been hugely successful. STEP premiered at the Sundance Film Festival to sold-out screenings, enjoyed rave reviews, and received the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award for Inspirational Filmmaking. Fox Searchlight Pictures has also acquired worldwide distribution and remake rights to STEP.
Known as The Lethal Ladies step team, the group of young women are empowered by their teachers, teammates, counselors, coaches and families to keep stepping forward, despite the obstacles or circumstances they face, including civil unrest in Baltimore around the death of Freddie Gray.
Lipitz, along with the cast, their families, and several others attended the Baltimore premiere. Mayor Catherine Pugh was also in attendance.
“Originally, I set out to do a film about these young women at the Baltimore Leadership School For Young Women who were looking to become the first in their families to attend college,” recalled Lipitz. “It is truly an amazing program. Blessing Giraldo, one of the students in the program, asked me to come to film the STEP team. Stepping, or the culture of stepping, wasn’t something I was familiar with at all. But I went to film the team stepping and the art of stepping just sang to me.”
Located at 128 W. Franklin Street, the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women is an all-girls college preparatory public charter school that is an affiliate of the Young Women’s Leadership Network. The school serves young women in Baltimore. Its mission and goal is a 100 percent graduate and 100 percent college acceptance rate.
“I am grateful and humbled,” said Lipitz, who is a native of Owings Mills, Maryland. “This film is really about Baltimore. I would have been part of that step team whether we were making a documentary or not. We set out to change the conversation about Baltimore. Freddie Gray was killed in their junior year, which made the making of this documentary even more important. It impacted the girls a lot.”
The documentary includes real life footage of the team competing at Bowie State University for the stepping championship.
“I was rooting for them to win the competition,” said Lipitz. “But for me, they were going to win either way because they were going to graduate from high school. That was always going to be the end of the movie, and the main reason to watch.”
In addition to Giraldo, the film’s stars include step team members Tayla Solomon, Cori Granger, and their coach Gari McInyre (“Coach G”).
“I want people to come see the film and leave with the understanding that they must do something to help our community,” said Giraldo. “We want people living in the black community to have confidence and hope, and to stand up and do something different.”
Tayla Soloman is studying Computer Science and International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
“There’s nothing better than doing something in Baltimore for Baltimore,” said Solomon. “One of the things that I really want the film to highlight is that we don’t want sympathy or for people to feel sorry for us. We know our circumstances – we are black women growing up in a place where people don’t have the right things to be on the right track.”
She added, “It’s hard out here. But, we have to look in the mirror and tell ourselves we are great. Everyone’s path is different, but at the end of the day, we are still black women of color. Graduating from high school and getting into college is a great accomplishment.”
Cori Grainger reflected back on the group’s journey.
“All of this is so exciting,” said Grainger. “An opportunity like this doesn’t get passed along to little black girls from Baltimore too often. None of us were expecting to go on a national tour for the film or be on the big screen. This process has been a huge learning experience of both big and small lessons. But our struggles are not our stories – our successes are.”
Did The Lethal Ladies of the Baltimore Leadership School For Young Women (BLSYW) win the stepping competition? You’ll have to step into theaters to find out. For more information visit http://www.foxsearchlight.com/stepmovie/