Whitney Houston not only was the executive producer of Sparkle, she also starred in it as Emma who is a former entertainer turned prim church lady in the late 1960s. It’s no wonder why people can’t help relate the movie to her life.
Emma abandoned show business after suffering from the same excesses that Houston also underwent before she died in February right after the shooting of Sparkle wrapped up. It is a Cinderella story where Emma’s youngest daughter Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) rises to the top.
Whitney Houston is not the star of Sparkle, which is a remake of the 1976 movie featuring Lonette McKee and Irene Cara, with score written by Curtis Mayfield. But she outshines the rest of the cast, especially her performance of His Eye Is on the Sparrow. Her vocal quality has diminished by the time she shot the movie but her hoarse rendition of the gospel song gives Sparkle its heart.
Sparkle is Houston’s fourth movie. She improved a lot from her previous movie performances. Her rigid posture and narrowed eyes gave her character a distinct personality. Emma is a woman whose unbending strictness is some sort of self-flagellation. You can sense her fierce defensiveness through the way she talks. But behind her strict nature is a protective, caring mother.
Her three daughters, Sister (Carmen Ejogo), Delores (Tika Sumpter) and Sparkle, form a trio called Sister and Her Sisters. Emma doesn’t want them to perform but they can’t be stopped, not even by their mother. Even when Emma banished Sister from the house, they continue with it.
Sparkle is directed by Salim Akil and written by his wife Mara Brock Akil. The original movie was set in 1950s Harlem but the remake takes place in 1968 Detroit, during the glory days of Motown. It is compared with Dreamgirls. Critics say that Sparkle is not as polished as Dreamgirls but the three sisters have better characterization.