CINCINNATI — The world of an 11-year-old local girl just got a whole lot bigger, thanks to a new film coming out next month that’s set in the Queen City.
Royalty Hightower is a fifth grader at Winton Woods Intermediate School who has been dancing with Q-Kidz Dance Team – a 30-year-old dance team in Cincinnati’s West End – since she was 6.
Hightower’s life changed in 2014, when New York film director Anna Rose Holmer was looking for a high-energy, athletic dance team to cast in her narrative directorial debut, “The Fits,” a movie about a young girl who trains as a boxer at a community center but becomes fascinated by the dance team that also practices there.
When Holmer happened upon a YouTube video of Q-Kidz, “it was like lightning struck,” she said. “I started watching more and more clips of Q-Kidz. Not only was it a great dance form (a blend of drill and majorette) but an amazing community of women that I felt could be great collaborators.”
After Holmer flew to Cincinnati to meet with Q-Kidz Founder and Director Marquicia Jones-Woods in October of 2014, she began holding auditions in Cincinnati for roles in the film, including the lead role of “Toni.”
“By the end of day two, I told my producer I couldn’t see myself directing anyone other than (then-9-year-old) Royalty as ‘Toni,’” Holmer said. “She has that ‘thing’ everyone talks about. That ‘it.’ I don’t know what that means exactly, but Royalty has it.”
With Jones-Woods serving in an advisory capacity, Hightower as the lead, and 45 other girls from Q-Kidz either acting or dancing in the film, “The Fits” was shot at the Lincoln Recreation Center in the West End (then-home of Q-Kidz Dance Team).
The film debuted at the Venice International Film Festival in September 2015 and the Sundance Film Festival this past January. It won rave reviews at both festivals and, last month, won for best narrative feature – with Hightower winning for best actress – at the RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Jones-Woods said the girls on her dance team don’t know how to handle the attention.
“I don’t think the kids know how big this is,” she said. “I know I’m still in disbelief and can’t believe this happened. We went so long being in the background, so to suddenly get all this attention, we’re all in awe. We’re so grateful that the things we always dreamed of happening for the team are actually happening.”
For her part, Hightower is taking the accolades in stride.
“I know very few people get this opportunity, and I’m so glad I took it because it might’ve been the only opportunity I ever get, but I’m staying humble because you have to stay humble,” she said.
Since Sundance, Hightower has signed with an agent and is represented by Paradigm Talent Agency. On Tuesday, she and her agent had a meeting with Disney in Los Angeles.
Hightower said her dream is to act and to star in her own TV show.
She’ll join her fellow “The Fits” cast mates in New York City on May 31 to dance on a rooftop to promote the film ahead of its June 3 theatrical release.
Holmer said a similar dance-themed publicity event is in the works for Cincinnati ahead of the film’s premiere here June 10 at the Esquire Theatre. “The Fits’” Cincinnati premiere is on the same day as L.A.’s, which, Holmer said, is no small feat.
“It was kind of a risk to have the film’s second openings be in Cincinnati and L.A. simultaneously,” she said, “but I want Cincinnati audiences to see this story that was shot here. Cincinnati was very meaningful to me in the making of this film. I want to include that in the whole life of the film and shine a light on this community and what it meant to me.”
Click here to watch the trailer of “The Fits."