Whitney's Final Bow

By Samuels, Allison | Newsweek, July 16, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Whitney's Final Bow

Samuels, Allison, Newsweek

Byline: Allison Samuels

Sparkle's producers on Houston's bittersweet role.

Mara Brock Akil remembers well the best advice she was given as a fledgling writer climbing the ranks in Hollywood. One night after working her usual 14-hour day on the comedy Moesha, a senior producer applauded Akil's work ethic and pulled her aside. She strongly urged her to avoid forsaking a personal life for her burgeoning career in television, suggesting she'd live to regret it if she did.

A few years later, while forging toward a career that would place her as one of few African-American women to write and produce shows for network television, she met Salim Akil. Married for 13 years, together they have worked on an array of hip and racially diverse series, including The Game, Soul Food, and Girlfriends.

This summer, the duo will become the first African-American couple to write, direct, and produce a major film with a remake of the 1976 cult classic Sparkle, due out in August. Sparkle also marks Whitney Houston's final appearance on film after her death from drowning and drug overdose in February.

This presents a two-pronged challenge for the Hollywood players: can they retell a beloved story while doing justice to the memory of a lost icon?

"Whitney was involved with this film before we were," explains Salim, who served as director. "This was a movie she'd wanted to make for a very long time, so we always understood the importance it held for her. We respected her ideas and she respected ours. It was a wonderful partnership."

Inspired by the musical group The Supremes and set during the 1950s and 60s, Sparkle follows a trio of sisters gifted in song but struggling to fight the demons of fame. In the late 90s, Houston approached the singer Aaliyah to costar as a sister with her in the film. After Aaliyah was killed in a 2001 plane crash, Houston put the film on hold.

More than a decade later, Houston and her producer partner Debra Martin Chase turned to reviving the remake. Salim Akil was coming off of directing his box-office hit Jumping the Broom, and after a few meetings with the producers and studio, the 45-year-old Oakland native knew exactly what the film needed besides him--his wife's writing touch.

They began shooting Sparkle in Detroit, with Houston in the role of the aspiring singers' mother.

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