Producer on Bittersweet Journey of ‘Sparkle’

Whitney's longtime friend Debra Martin Chase says the remake is a perfect cap to the singer's legacy.

Debra Martin Chase and Whitney Houston (Randee St. Nicholas)
Debra Martin Chase and Whitney Houston (Randee St. Nicholas)

(The Root) — Veteran Hollywood producer Debra Martin Chase played a huge part in getting the 2012 version of Sparkle into theaters this week. But she’s quick to give credit to her homegirl and producing partner Whitney Houston for coming up with the idea for a remake in the first place.

“She called me up one day: ‘Girl, what do you think about remaking Sparkle? And I said, ‘You know, it’s one of my favorite movies — that’s a great idea,’ ” said Chase, recalling a decade-old phone conversation.

After that initial call, however, the project stalled for various reasons — the most notable one being the untimely death of Aaliyah. The R&B ingenue was tapped to play the title character before her death in a plane crash in the Bahamas in 2001. It wasn’t until three years ago that Sony execs finally agreed that a Houston-led update of the 1976 film could work.

Now, in its opening weekend, the film emerges as a reminder of the comeback that could have been if Houston were still alive. In addition, it’s an uplifting vehicle for this generation’s rising stars, such as Jordin Sparks, Carmen Ejogo and Derek Luke. The Root recently caught up with Chase, who called from Los Angeles and chatted with us about her late friend and how she hopes the new Sparkle will resonate with today’s audiences.

The Root: As a huge fan of Whitney Houston, I found it hard to watch the movie. I can only imagine how tough it is for you to see her on the screen. How do you feel about the movie now?

Debra Martin Chase: This has obviously been a really unbelievable journey. Never in a million years did I believe things would be the way they are right now. She didn’t see the movie. I saw the movie for the first time a few days before she passed. For a long time [after that], it was … can I get through the movie without collapsing? But, you know, I’ve turned the corner, and I’ve realized that this movie is a celebration of her.

This movie started with the two of us 12 years ago with a vision and a dream to make it come true. Her performance is the best of her career. We talked about that while we were making the movie, and she felt and knew that. This will be the final piece of her legacy. People will see her beautiful and passionate and happy. She is an incredible woman, she’s had an incredible career … some of the glory has been forgotten over the past couple of years. This is a chance for the world to remember who she was.

TR: What kind of film makes a good remake candidate?

DMC: A couple things: One, you’re looking for a timeless, universal story. Then you’re looking for a movie that’s utterly beloved. Sparkle was huge — is huge —  in the African-American community. Some of the directors and executives at the studio never understood the value of the title.