Kerry Washington pays tribute to ‘Save the Last Dance’ on 20th anniversary

The beloved 2001 film that featured Washington had a hit soundtrack and sparked a dance-drama film crush.

Veteran actress Kerry Washington paid tribute to the anniversary of one of her earliest films, Save the Last Dance, Tuesday on Instagram. 

“OH EM GEE!!!!! Save the Last Dance turns 20 years old today,” she wrote, followed by several emojis. “Playing Chenille changed my life.”

A scene from the 2001 hit film “Save the Last Dance” captures its stars (from left) Julia Stiles, Sean Patrick Thomas and Kerry Washington. (Paramount Pictures)

She continued: “I read that script and I felt like I KNEW her. At the time, I also knew the narrative that was being served in culture about who Black teen moms are. And I knew that if done right, this was an opportunity to transform some stereotyped thinking and make this young woman REAL. And human. And deserving of love and attention.”

Washington added that she “loooooved being a part of this film This cast. This crew. So many ‘slammin’ memories!” 

The beloved 2001 film tells the story of Sara, played by Julia Stiles, a white Midwestern ballet dancer who moves in with her father on Chicago’s south side after her mother tragically dies in a car accident en route to the teenager’s Julliard School audition. 

A grieving, guilt-ridden Sara enrolls in the neighborhood high school, which is majority-Black, and becomes friends with Chenille — played by Washington — and falls for her brother, Derek, who played by Sean Patrick Thomas. 

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Save the Last Dance dealt with issues of interracial dating, as well as other harsh teen-reality situations; it maintains a 52% percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. 

Late film critic Roger Ebert called the movie “cliche,” but he noted that the characters are “more complicated than we expect.” He gave it a rating of three out of four stars. 

Save the Last Dance was produced by MTV Productions and directed by Thomas Carter, who first came to prominence as an actor on the CBS high-school basketball-team drama, The White Shadow, then went on to direct Coach Carter and Dr. Ben Carson’s autobiography, Gifted Hands.

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The success of Save the Last Dance sparked a straight-to-video sequel and a hit soundtrack that won an American Music Award. Even more, the film kicked off a phenomenon of successful multi-cultural dance dramas, a roster that includes Honey in 2003, You Got Served in 2004 and Step Up, which came out in 2006 two months before Save the Last Dance 2.

Save the Last Dance debuted at number-one. The film ended up grossing $131.7 million worldwide. 

Thomas, who won special acclaim for his role, also posted a tribute to the film on Instagram.

Save The Last Dance premiered 20 years ago and we shocked the world, including myself,” he wrote. “Never imagined the film would be as beloved as it is.”

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