Out of all the scenes in Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, which turns 30 this month, one that sticks with me is when the choir is about to begin the climactic competition, and Sister Mary Clarence (Whoopi Goldberg) gives her big speech to get them to avoid suddenly backing out. After seeing one choir do the same song they’re performing, feeling they can’t measure up, they decide to back out only for Sister Mary Clarence to rally them and say these words:
“If you wanna go somewhere, you want to be somebody, you better wake up and pay attention. Because if every time something scary comes up, you decide to run, you all are going to be running for the rest of your lives.”
Despite not having any religious affiliation, those words have become like a psalm for me to live by. Whenever I’ve come across something scary, like taking a daunting college class or attending a downtown college campus, which felt like a world away from the suburban environment I’ve grown accustomed to all my life, I’d go right back to Sister Mary Clarence’s words and see things through to avoid letting fear run my life.
Given how it’s about a musical choir, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit particularly nails the struggles of being an artist and the self-doubt that plagues one. Rita Watson (Lauryn Hill), the ringleader of the music class taught by Sister Mary Clarence, best exemplifies that conflict. Although Rita initially seems like a mean girl, being rebellious for the sake of it, her not wanting to contribute to the class proves to be a defense mechanism. It’s a way to avoid uncertainty about her singing gifts and to not disappoint those around her, like her strict mother, Florence (Sheryl Lee Ralph).
Sheryl Lee Ralph, who’s given notable, inspiring acceptance speeches about not giving up after years of hard work, including her Emmy speech, disappears into the role of a mother telling her child to abandon her dreams. While Florence may be overprotective of Rita to the point where she prevents her from doing an extracurricular music activity, one can understand her not wanting Rita to set herself up for disappointment. Like every parent, Florence only wants the best for her daughter. But even parents forget that their children must decide what’s best for themselves and sometimes break their hearts to follow their own – hence Rita forging her mother’s signature on her permission slip so she can compete with her classmates.
Besides herself, Rita learns to let her peers be her cheerleaders. Even if they give her the smallest compliment, saying something as simple as “You can sing,” that bit of support proves to be a grand motivator. Sister Mary Clarence, especially, becomes a key motivator. Not only because of her climactic speech that gets the choir going but also her consultation with Rita before she rejoins the music class about how you know artistry runs through you if it gives you purpose as soon as you wake up. In her own words, if you get up and the first thing you think of doing is writing, you’re a writer. Similarly, if you want to sing as soon as you get out of bed, you’re a singer.
For all the movie’s positive messaging about self-confidence, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit didn’t click with critics like the first film, as it currently has an 18% Rotten Tomatoes score. While it did make money, its $125 million worldwide gross didn’t even measure up to the $231 million the first film made. Nevertheless, it managed to attain a cult following after its release. It also served as a career launchpad for its young cast, including Grammy winner Hill, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Ryan Toby from the R&B group City High, and Legally Blonde’s Alanna Ubach.
Whether it surpasses the first film is something that I’ve struggled with before considering both films on equal footing. Even if the ending goes where you think it will, with Sister Mary Clarence’s choir winning the competition and saving their school that was on the verge of closure, I still can’t fault it for its predictability because of the film’s sheer entertainment value and, more importantly, how the ending plays into its self-confidence message. The choir remaining victorious after being afraid to take the chance on the competition stage is the film’s way of saying to get fear going because, in the end, you might be surprised by what results may come. You might win that big competition, pass that college class, or get that short story published. Even if the results aren’t what we hope, choosing to shoot your shot is still as much a victory as the victories artists achieve as they go along.
More importantly, one should always listen when told something as simple as “You can sing” or “You’re a good writer.” When experiencing self-doubt while given such advice, the imposter syndrome might not vanish like that. No matter when or how it always creeps its way back regardless of what kind of artistry you’re in. But it goes away as long as we let those of us who see more in ourselves than we occasionally might be encouraged as we follow our passions and, above all, face the fearful and unfamiliar head-on. It’s what Sister Mary Clarence would want, and she’d agree that as long as we don’t run from what’s scary, regardless of what happens, one way or another, things will indeed be “joyful, joyful” for us.
Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit was released on December 10, 1993 by Touchstone Pictures and is available to stream with a Disney+ subscription and to rent via Prime Video, YouTube, Vudu and more.