Netflix's 'Step Sisters' is a Lesson in What's Off Limits

Megalyn Echikunwoke & Naturi Naughton 
By Mwabi Kaira

I didn’t see the trailer for Step Sisters, a Netflix original film starring Megalyn Echikunwoke and Naturi Naughton when it hit the internet weeks ago but I heard the uproar. Black folks said no, nope, nah son, not today, and stop the madness to the storyline of a Black sorority president teaching a white sorority to step in order to save their chapter. The message was clear; leave our stuff alone and stop appropriating all we hold so dear.

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I came home Friday night with no plans and as saw a tweet from Lena Waithe announcing that Step Sisters was now streaming on Netflix and she wanted honest feedback on it. Turns out she executive produced the project. I was intrigued given the uproar and Lena’s obvious wokeness and how these two facts reconciled. Lena says, 
“It was like putting a black woman in a position where she’s a little bit of a fish out of water and having to teach a group of white women how to do something that may come a little more naturally to black people. I thought it was really interesting and really cool.” 
Sounded like a good enough reason for me so I pressed play and was laughing within minutes and stayed laughing throughout the movie.

Now, before you revoke my black card I must inform you that I attended a predominately white institution and related to that aspect of the movie. I have heard the questions asked about black greek life just as they were asked in Step Sisters. I noticed that folks who attended HBCU’s didn’t find anything funny about the movie and the consensus on the internet was that this would never happen. They felt that the interactions in Step Sisters were forced and overdone. Characters like the white hotep boyfriend overcompensating his white guilt was typical and the internet really did not like the black woman putting aside her hard work to save the needy white woman scenario played out once again.

Step Sisters
I did not grow up in the US and have assimilated into a black American woman and know that there are things that are off limits that I can only understand fractions of from afar. Black greek life is one of these things. In college a few people asked me if I was pledging and I had no idea what they were talking about. Of course they educated me on it but I had no interest. Not because it wasn’t fascinating and has life long benefits but because this was a family thing rooted in long histories that I knew nothing of. Parents groom their children to become members of their sororities and fraternities to keep tradition going. There has been interest from potential suitors whose interest immediately dwindled once they discovered I was not a member of a sorority. I am cool with this because greek life is not ingrained in me.

Netflix made a comedy, Step Sisters, but perhaps they would have been better off like me, knowing that this was off limits. You would have thought their 2017 movie Burning Sands about hazing would have tipped them off but no, they kept going. To be fair Step Sisters was written by Chuck Hayward (Dear White People, Straight Outta Compton), directed by Charles Stone (Drumline) and co-produced by Ben Cory Jones (Insecure) so it wasn’t like a white dude imagined a black story about how black people spoke and acted and made it happen. So to be really fair, Netflix is not to blame at all. Step Sisters had the formula to make comedy magic.

Now will there ever be a movie or a show about black greek life that is accepted or will it always be viewed under a microscope and analyzed to the tiniest of details? A reality show called Sorority Sisters was yanked off the air with a quickness years ago because folks didn’t want this portrayal of black womanhood in a sorority to taint the masses. It’s okay for black women who are in sororities to be on reality shows but it’s out of the question for there to be a show about black sororities. Got it. BET’s The Quad, a television show about a fictional HBCU had actual HBCU President, William Harvey of Hampton University pen a letter about the bogus representation. This is not a game and the message is clear; you can’t speak on black greek life if you’re not in it, you can’t speak on the HBCU experience if you didn’t attend one, and a movie depicting either is off limits and should not be attempted.

Have you seen Step Sisters? Share your thoughts!

Mwabi Kaira is an African girl navigating her way in an American world.  She is of Zambian and Malawian heritage and moved to the USA in 1993.  Writing has been her passion since she could put a sentence together on the page. Mothering her sons is her pride and joy.  She has been an avid runner since 2013 and has run 10 half marathons and a full marathon.  Keep up with her at http://africanbeautifulme.blogspot.com/

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