The movie opens with a concert. Black’s (CeLo Green) group is performing at the Discovery Club in Detroit. He’s always the headlining act and no one ever beats him. Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) is arguing backstage with Sister (Carmen Ejogo) trying to get her to sing next. It’s Sparkle’s song, but Sister not only has the voice she also has the moves. After Black goes back and says a few words to her, like, is she sure she wants to do this, she spontaneously takes a knife and cuts her dress to make it look sexier, and they go to the stage. While on the way, Sparkle makes eyes with a Stix (Derek Luke). While Sister sings, Black and Stix talk jokingly about his need to lose weight, etc. if he wants Stix as a manager. They are also very impressed by Sister’s performance as Sparkle sings along from the sidelines. As she leaves the stage, this time Black is complimenting her. They have to leave to catch the bus back home.
On the bus Sister tells Sparkle that she isn’t going to sing her songs anymore, and she better learn how to do it herself. Sparkle sees a marquee for Marvin Gaye and seems very happy about it. They get home, and their sister Delores (Tika Sumpter) answers the door. They are late, and their mother is up. Emma (Whitney Houston) sees them all sleeping in the bedroom. She knows they were out late. She tells them that they have church in the morning.
At church, Stix and his cousin Levi see Sister (real name Tammy). It took him 7 churches to find her. He approaches Sparkle outside the church, and they flirt a bit, talking about the Bible study that will be at her house that week. Emma’s friends tell her that she better keep an eye on her so she doesn’t end up like her sister. At Bible study, they are watching an African American comedian on TV, but not everyone thinks his jokes about African Americans are so funny. Levi sneaks off to flirt with Sister. They start Bible study when Sister comes out to tell Emma that the Reverend is on the phone. She has to check the books because the numbers aren’t adding up. Emma has everyone leave while she heads over to the church. After saying goodnight to Sparkle, Stix tries to talk to Sister because he wants to talk to her about her singing. He very sneakily stays in the house and finds Sparkle singing and playing piano as she works on a song. He talks to her about her music, and she says that the only reason she sings in the choir at church is so she won’t have to sit alone, and her mother would never let her really sing.
That night Sparkle and Sister are in the bedroom, and Sparkle asks her why she doesn’t unpack. Sister says she doesn’t plan on being there that long, but has already been there for two months. They hear a noise and discover that Stix is outside throwing rocks at the window. He wants her to come to the underground club that night to go listen to music. They dance and ride on his motorcycle. He is honest with her and tells her that her lyrics are too safe and asks her why she doesn’t want to sing. She tells him that Emma used to sing professionally, but the pressure and everything almost killed her. He asks her if she’s afraid of her mom or her own voice. She admits to him that she wants to be a star. He kisses her goodnight and tells her that she has to get over her fear of singing. She and her sisters could be a girl group. He says he’ll be her manager. He wants them to sing at Cliff Bell, a really big club that even Marvin Gaye got booted out of.
At church, Dolores agrees because she needs money to pay for medical school, and when she gets in they will have to replace her. Sister says she’ll think about it. Sparkle is upset because she feels like Stix used her to get to Sister, even though she told him that herself that Sister was a better performer.
Levi and Sister are on a date at a diner. He tells her that he sees her beauty and asks her what she needs to fall in love with him, and he will do it, since he’s already in love with her. Levi gives Sister a jewelry box, and it has a picture of a ring in it. Satin Struthers, the comedian they were watching on TV, comes over and makes fun of him. He tells them that he used to eat at that restaurant back when he was struggling and goes back to his crew. Levi and Sister leave, as Satin takes her picture and she is flattered and happy with him.
At Emma’s boutique, Sparkle sees some pictures of Emma and her father and Emma with Delores’ father. Emma was so happy with Sparkle’s father. Later, at a record store, Sparkle sees Stix and they make up. After two weeks of working at a department store, Sister only made $96. This convinces the girls to perform at the club. There are a lot of other African American groups singing so they will need something special. Satin comes over to Levi and Stix is introduced to them. Satin is looking for a new act and hopes they’re good.
The girls are off to a rough start until Sister starts singing. They sing “Hooked on Your Love” with Sister being especially sexual and seductive, which captures the audience. The girls become a popular act and sing all over Detroit at different clubs under the name “Sister and her Sisters.” In the dressing room, they are telling Stix, their manager, that they need more money. Levi brings Sister flowers when Satin comes in. He gives her a box with a real ring in it and Levi attacks him. Stix pulls Levi off of Satin, and they all leave the girls alone. Sparkle is wondering how Sister could do that to Levi (keep the ring) because he loves her so much. She doesn’t care because she says you have to jump on the train when it comes. Meanwhile, Levi and Stix are screaming at one another. Stix claims that he did have Levi’s back, but it’s business. Levi leaves both of them pissed.
Emma invites the minister Reverend Bryce (Michael Beach) and her friend Ms. Waters (Tamela J. Mann) over for dinner. They hold hands and pray before eating, and Emma wonders why Sister is not there. The prayer goes on for a long time, making them all laugh since they want to eat. Suddenly Satin and Sister show up. Sister introduces him to Emma, and he is disrespectful to the Reverend. They discuss the jokes he made after the riots since he called them stupid for doing it in his act. Satin and Sister announce their engagement. Sister sticks up for him saying he tithes and goes to church sometimes. Emma starts getting angry, and Sister yells back saying that it’s not her fault Emma got pregnant when she was 16, and she was the one raising her sisters while Emma was out getting drunk, pretending to be the perfect mother. Sister says that she used to be desperate, but now she just wants to get out of there. Emma yells to her that if Sister leaves this time, she won’t come back. Sister doesn’t care and packs her bag to leave. Sparkle runs after her and Sister says she’ll still be part of the group. Delores tells her congratulations, they hug, and she leaves. An upset Sparkle goes off with Stix.
Sister and Satin are staying at his place. He introduces her to cocaine. They have Sparkle and Delores over to rehearse for a performance. Satin tells them to leave and makes a joke. Sparkle laughs at his joke, which offends Satin, and the girls leave. They are opening up for Aretha Franklin for a TV show. As they get ready, they see that Sister has a black eye. She covers for Satin saying she had an accident, but they know what’s going on. Sparkle also sees the cocaine that Sister is now doing. They perform a song titled “Something He Can Feel.” Emma, who doesn’t know they have even been performing outside of church, happens to wake up and see them on TV.
After their performance is over, Stix introduces the girls to Columbia Records executive named Larry who wants to sign them. He says he wants to see them in the light of day first, and they will perform for some other executives. He doesn’t even know if they can sing though, because Sister is so mesmerizing. Satin comes backstage to get Sister, but Delores and Sparkle stand up to him. They try to get Sister to leave Satin, as she used to make excuses for Emma as well, but as soon as she sees Satin in the lobby and he starts applauding for her, she goes back to him.
Delores and Sparkle go home and apologize to Emma. She yells at them saying she won’t allow them to throw their lives away like she almost did. They need to get an education and have a relationship with the Lord. Delores says that they’re saying Sparkle could be the next great songwriter like Smokey Robinson, and Sister could be the next Diana Ross. Sparkle says that the Lord wouldn’t give her this gift if he didn’t want her to use it. Emma takes her book of lyrics and throws it out. Sparkle apologizes for disrespecting the rules of the house, and if she wants her to go she will, but she won’t stop her career right now. Emma tells her to leave so she can see how useless it is, and if she wants to stay living there, her singing career will be over. Delores is very proud of Sparkle for standing up to her mother and tells her to keep making the songs.
Satin is performing his comedy at a club, but no one is laughing. Levi is there and starts heckling him with a date. Satin tries to fight Levi but is taken away. Levi makes a comment to Sister when he sees her. Satin and Sister leave quickly, and at home, we can see Satin chasing Sister through the house beating her with a belt.
The ladies have their meeting with Columbia Records. Delores has cut her hair, which upsets Stix since they’re supposed to look the same. Sparkle doesn’t know what to say about the haircut. They go to the bathroom and see Sister in there, high. They weren’t going to bring her, but Sparkle had no choice. She has bruises all over her face. Sparkle is ready to give Sister the cocaine to calm her down which upsets Delores, saying that Sparkle doesn’t care about her right now. They walk in and see all the girls there, and there goes the deal. Larry says, “Just like I said, I need to see them in the light of day.”
Stix shows up at Sparkle’s house. He tells her that they have to get out of there, even proposing they go to the courthouse and get married. He tells her the act is over, and they have to get out of Detroit because of the riots. There’s nothing there, and they have to go to California. Sparkle begs him not to make her choose between her family and him, because she has to make sure Sister will be okay. He leaves upset, saying her mother really did a number on her.
At Sister’s house, the girls are there helping her pack to get her out, but Sister doesn’t want to go. She’s hitting Delores, but they won’t leave without her. Satin arrives at home, and Sister tells him that she’s not going anywhere. Sparkle tells him that they just want her to get well and Satin punches Sparkle. The other girls, Sister and Delores, start attacking him. Delores hits Satin in the back of the head with a fire iron before he can hit Sparkle again. They realize that he’s dead, even though Delores tries to give him CPR. Sister makes Delores and Sparkle leave before the cops come. They arrest Sister and charge her with manslaughter.
At church, Emma leads the choir and congregation in “His Eye is on the Sparrow” as Sparkle sits in tears. Delores isn’t there but is at home waiting for Sparkle and Emma to arrive. Sparkle gives Delores a hug, says she loves her, and walks away. Delores tells Emma she got into medical school and has to leave for school early to research scholarships. Emma says the hair was a good idea, and maybe she should get an afro. She starts crying happy tears. Delores tells her how much her belief in her meant to her. They hug and Delores leaves.
Sparkle goes to visit Sister in jail, updates her on what’s happening. She tells her that she and Stix broke up the day they lost the record deal. Sister apologizes to her and tells her not to come back to visit her in prison. She’s not going to let Sparkle crawl up in there and die with her and is trying to save her life.
Sparkle sits at home watching TV, and Emma tells her to curl her hair and go to bed, they have church in the morning. Sparkle, tired of this, rents her own apartment and moves out. She starts showing up at Columbia Records every day to meet with Larry and waits all day every day until she finally gets a chance to talk to him for two minutes. She tells him why he needs her. She tells him about all the songs she can write based on her life experiences. She meets up with Stix and tells him that she needs his help to put on a show for Larry to get the deal. She also goes back to her mother’s house to invite her to the show. Emma’s friend Ms. Waters is there and says she’d love to see the show. After Sparkle leaves, she says, “How many times are you going to keep making the same mistake?” Since Emma seems like she doesn’t care.
Sparkle is getting ready for her show, practicing on the piano, very nervous and stressed. Stix comes and has her play to make her feel better. He gives her a cupcake and a candy ring. It’s her birthday, and her wish was that he would propose again. He will be waiting for her in the wings during her performance, and he loves her.
Emma goes to visit Sister in prison. Both Emma and Sister are tired. Right after this, Sparkle is backstage, all dressed and ready, and sees she has a bloody nose. She gets blood on her dress but just then Emma shows up with a new dress for her to wear. She tells Sparkle she is proud of her for following her dreams. They tell each other that they love one another and Emma leaves to watch the show.
Sparkle performs a song titled “One Wing,” dedicated to Sister. She has the entire church choir in the background singing backup. Stix and Larry are watching, and Larry says he wants to sign her. Emma, a proud mother, is applauding from the crowd.
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