Making the Grades
Raya (Rutina Wesley) is determined to leave her troubled Toronto neighborhood behind to pursue medical school and future related careers. But not long after leaving for a private secondary school, the teen is called home because her older sibling's substance abuse and the associated costs of addiction rehabilitation are costing what little money her parents have.
When the intervention proves too late, Raya finds herself robbed of her sister and her prospects. Now the academically confident girl is stuck back in the family's low-cost housing apartment, forced to face her drug and dancing obsessed peers to whom she unceremoniously said good-bye only a few months earlier.
Still urgently wanting a shot at an upper-class education, Raya formulates a new plan based on an upcoming street dance contest in Detroit that offers a huge cash prize. Dusting off her moves, she begins to showcase her stepping talents and starts looking for a "crew" with which to enter the challenge.
Like many movies before it, this film about a desperate character entering a long shot competition in the hopes of a life altering opportunity isn't likely to surprise you with its conclusion. Instead, the unexpected lies with the character development within the movie. This can be seen in the way the protagonist interacts with other young people, and especially in Raya's relationship with bad-girl Michelle (Tracey Armstrong) who also lives for dancing -- and drugs.
The girls collide in an informal dance contest at school that turns into a brawl (this fight is the most violent moment of the film). But thanks to a wise school principal, as punishment Raya is sentenced to tutor Michelle. An unlikely friendship develops between these two that exposes the positive and negative traits in both of them as Michelle deals with changing her course and Raya struggles with her prideful attitude. Other people in Raya's path also cause the student to reassess who she is -- most notably her mother who is understandably concerned for her child's future after watching the circumstances leading to her other daughter's death.
In showing us Raya's world, we see images of teens using drugs, drinking and smoking cigarettes. Yet rather than glamorizing these activities, the storyline focuses on Raya's recognition of how these habits are destroying people's lives. One sexual expletive and another mouthed sexual expletive, along with mild and moderate profanities are used in the script. Sexual content is limited to a couple of low cut shirts and some suggestive dance moves.
Although it may not be groundbreaking cinema, this film does show how adolescents can change their lives by altering their behavior. It also depicts caring parents and an intelligent principal -- characters that are in short supply in movies today. While it may not have a lot of new moves, How She Move may provide enough reasons, despite the drug and language content, to consider sharing this title with your older teens.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about How She Move.
Raya’s sister was highly influenced by her peer group, which led to her eventual death. Now her mother is very concerned about Raya hanging out with the same group. Are her mother’s fears valid? How might the girls’ varying personalities affect their reaction to the similar circumstances? What might Raya have done to help relieve her mother’s worries?