Stars of Sundance: Royalty Hightower

Stars of Sundance: Royalty Hightower

Get to know the pre-teen girl leading of of Sundance's standout films, and watch the trailer for The Fits

Get to know the pre-teen girl leading of of Sundance's standout films, and watch the trailer for The Fits

Photography: Charlie Engman

Styling: Emma Wyman

Text: Natasha Stagg

The coming-of-age narrative can often be truncated to supernatural tropes in film—puberty is likened to vampire rebirths, werewolf awakenings, and fairy godmother visits. In Anna Rose Holmer’s narrative directorial debut,The Fits, though, a dance team’s right of passage “fits” fall within the spectrum of the possible. “I looked at a bunch of [hysteria] cases, and what’s in the film is definitely based on a real phenomenon,” says Holmer, “but we wanted it to be more magical and allegorical than just symptom-based.”

Then nine-year-old Royalty Hightower is the film’s breakout lead. Surrounded by her real-life Cincinnati dance troupe Q-Kidz, who play a similar drill team, she carefully traverses the exciting world of female bonding, going from a boxing tomboy to a hopeful drill dancer, and subsequently witnessing young girls like herself convulsing during rehearsal.

Hightower, for her part, says she found the process of individualizing her “fit” to be the most difficult part of her first acting gig. “Miss Anna never told me the cause of it, but I did some work with Miss Celia [Rowlson-Hall], the choreographer, for my fit,” she says, back in Ohio after a whirlwind trip to Park City. “She said to make it our own, like each fit was different. Like something that was yours.” Holmer adds: “All of the fits were designed in isolation. The girls got to choreograph them with Celia one-on-one, with my input, and that’s why none of the girls’ fits look like each other. They were modes of expressions, like dance. We never defined in a concrete way what a fit was or wasn’t because we wanted the girls to have freedom to explore in that space.”


Click to read on V's other Star of Sundance, Lily Rose Depp


Holmer, who has assisted on films like Twilight and Tiny Furniture and the documentary Teenage, is, even at this early stage in her directing career, an expert on the depiction of growing up female. The Fits provides a sensitive, subtle take on that most compelling of phases—and it discovers a star. After finding YouTube videos of the Q-Kidz, Holmer was on a mission. “We weren’t even casting any dance teams, I was just looking for a dance form,” she recalls. I instantaneously fell in love with them, called their coach, and flew to Cincinnati.” Holmer next held auditions for the lead, who she pictured as a 13-year-old. Hightower somehow made it into the auditorium, though, and after an incredible reading, the team decided to cast her as 11-year-old Toni.

Since Sundance, The Fits was picked up by Oscilloscope Laboratories and glowingly reviewed. “It was my first time at Sundance,” says Holmer. “It was really special to share that with Royalty.”

ROYALTY WEARS SHIRT BURBERRY SKIRT DIOR
Credits: MAKEUP, HAIR, GROOMING ERIN SKIPLEY USING DIOR BEAUTY (CLOUTIER REMIX)  PRODUCTION SYLVIA FARAGO LTD  DIGITAL TECHNICIAN JONATHAN HOKKLO  PHOTO ASSISTANT MICHAEL TESSLER   STYLIST ASSISTANT COCO CAMPBELL  GROOMING ASSISTANT TAMMY YI  EQUIPMENT ACME CAMERA COMPANY

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