In ‘Save the Last Dance’ love knows no color.
We all remember the 2001 masterpiece “Save The Last Dance,” don’t we? It introduced us to the love story between Midwestern ballerina Sara (played by Julia Stiles) and hip-hop dancer Derek (played by Sean Patrick Thomas) from the south side of Chicago.
Sara is a dedicated ballet dancer and aspiring Juilliard student who is struck by tragedy when her mother is run off the road on the way to one of Sara’s auditions. With her mom gone, Sara gives up dance and is forced to move in with her absentee father (played by Terry Kinney) in one of Chicago’s rougher neighborhoods.
Derek is an aspiring med student who Sara unwittingly meets after befriending his sister Chenille (played by a pre- “Scandal” Kerry Washington). He’s a smart guy with killer dance moves and an even better smile. Sara feels a spark and soon the two enter into an adorable and memorable relationship. What makes this romance unique is that it’s an interracial love story that plays out just like any of the great love stories of our times.
Girl meets boy. Girl learns to dance hip hop from boy. Boy helps girl reconnect with her love of ballet and begin to get over the death of her mother. Boy and girl fall in love and live happily ever after. Sort of.
One of the amazing things about this love story isn’t just that the couple is interracial, but that the topic of race is treated respectfully and only within the greater context of the film’s plot. Yes, racial issues occur. When an older woman on the train is offended by the couple, they make fun of her by displaying some serious over-the-top affection. It’s funny and adorable and the audience laughs at how crazy the lady seems.
But then things get a little bit more serious.
Derek’s ex-girlfriend Nikki (played by Bianca Lawson) picks a fight with Sara that gets bloody and brings tension to Sara and Derek’s fledgling relationship. Then to add salt to the wound, Chenille defends Nikki and tells Sara that she’s just another white girl who came in and took one of the only good guys they have left.
“There’s only one world, Chenille,” Sara tells her.
“That’s what they teach you,” she responds, “We know different.”
The comment stays with Sara and adds to the stress and tension she’s already feeling ahead of her Juilliard audition. She breaks up with Derek to avoid additional race-related conflict. Dancing brought them together but issues stemming back to her being a white woman in a black neighborhood break them apart.
But it all works out!
We’re reminded that love is love is love, and love knows no color. Chenille comes around and confesses her bitchy moment to Derek just in time for him to refuse to join his friend in a revenge drive-by and instead rush to Sara’s audition. She aces it and Juilliard is now in sight.
True love conquers all, it seems, and we’re reminded of that again at the end of the movie when Derek and Sara dance at their favorite club. Chenille is finally united with her baby’s daddy and Derek and Sara have both gotten into their dream schools.
It gives me warm and fuzzy feelings to watch this movie now because Sara and Derek are such a great couple. They do everything that perfect movie couples should do: They learn from each other and fall in love. They overcome obstacles together and grow stronger because of their relationship.
It’s an interracial love story, yes, but it’s also simply a great love story because it’s human and relatable in ways that people of all colors can relate to. #SaraAndDerekForever