The Fits (film)

The Fits is a 2015 American drama film directed by Anna Rose Holmer in her feature debut. The film tells the story of Toni (Royalty Hightower), an 11-year-old tomboy who struggles to fit into a girls’ dance troupe, which begins to suffer from an inexplicable epidemic of violent fits.

The Fits
The Fits poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byAnna Rose Holmer
Screenplay byAnna Rose Holmer
Story byAnna Rose Holmer
Saela Davis
Lisa Kjerulff
Produced byAnna Rose Holmer
Lisa Kjerulff
StarringRoyalty Hightower
Alexis Neblett
Da'Sean Minor
Lauren Gibson
Makyla Burnam
Inayah Rodgers
Antonio A. B. Grant Jr.
CinematographyPaul Yee
Edited bySaela Davis
Music byDanny Bensi
Saunder Jurriaans
Distributed byOscilloscope Laboratories
Release date
  • September 4, 2015 (2015-09-04) (Venice Film Festival)
Running time
72 minutes
  • United States
  • Italy
Budget€150,000 (approximately $168,333)[1]
Box office$167,137[2]

The film premiered at the 2015 Venice Film Festival and was selected to take part in the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. Oscilloscope Laboratories obtained U.S. distribution rights to the film before its Sundance debut.[3]


Eleven-year-old Toni trains with her brother Jermaine in the boxing gym at the Lincoln Community Center in Cincinnati. She starts to take notice of the girls’ dance team which also practices there. Toni watches through the doors to the practice room as two girls dance at each other. The next day, Toni goes into the empty gym and starts to dance, mimicking the actions of the girls whom she had seen dancing earlier. Jermaine interrupts her to ask if she is ready to go hit the stairs where they go to continue training. He tells Toni that he saw her dancing and encourages her to try out for the team.

Toni goes to the tryouts and observes the team with a group of other young hopefuls. The team captains, Legs and Karisma, teach the girls the “clap back call” which they try to do with little success. Toni continues to practice the routine in the empty gym. Legs comes in to pick up some water bottles and asks Toni to go fill them before practice. She befriends two other girls, Beezy and Maia. During practice, Legs collapses and appears to have a seizure before she is hospitalized. Karisma takes over the practices before she too suffers from a fainting fit. Later, Toni tells Jermaine about the seizures. Jermaine warns Toni to not start acting like Karisma as she is the craziest one out of all of them.

Later, Toni aggressively practices the dance routine, smiling as she begins to master it. At practice the next day, she looks disappointed to hear that it is cancelled. She and Beezy play in the empty building and try on their new uniforms. They talk about the seizure episodes and question whether they were caused by some sort of boyfriend disease.

The next day, the supervisor announces that they suspect there might be something in the water so they should only drink from the water cooler in the boxing gym. Girls continue to have seizure episodes. Toni watches a newscaster reporting on “the fits”, stating that city officials are working with the county health department to investigate the cause. Later, Toni, Beezy, and Maia listen in as a group of girls are talking about what each of their episodes felt like. Beezy and Maia note that only the older girls have been getting sick. Maia tells Toni that she wants to know how the fits feel since they seem inevitable. Later, at practice, Maia has an episode. Toni argues with Beezy, saying that Maia wanted it to happen to her.

An official tells the girls and their parents that she has found nothing wrong with the water. Beezy is called in to meet with the doctor and Toni watches through the window as she begins to seize. Later, Beezy and Maia talk about their experience with the fits as Toni listens.

Toni skips practice and goes to stand in the empty pool. As she walks back towards the gym, she begins to float in the air. The team watches in shock as she enters the room, floating and flailing her arms with her eyes closed. The film then cuts to shots of Toni and the dance team in uniform performing on the stairs, in the gym, the boxing ring, and in the empty pool. It then cuts back to Toni still flailing in the air, before she falls to the ground. She opens her eyes and smiles.


  • Royalty Hightower as Toni
  • Alexis Neblett as Beezy
  • Lauren Gibson as Maia
  • Da'Sean Minor as Jermaine
  • Inayah Rodgers as Karisma
  • Makyla Burnam as Legs
  • Antonio A.B. Grant Jr. as Donté
  • Q-Kidz Dance Team as "The Lionesses"



The Fits was funded through grants from the Venice Biennale College-Cinema initiative,[4] which supports "teams of directors and producers to make their first or second micro-budget audio-visual work".[5] For a year before submitting an application, Director Anna Rose Holmer, alongside her co-writer and producer, Lisa Kjerulff, and editor and co-writer, Saela Davis, developed a Tumblr with ideas for the film. They submitted the Tumblr alongside an outline and pitch statement when the call for open submissions came.[6] Their pitch was awarded a €150,000 grant which funded the 11-month production period until the film premiered at the 2015 Venice Film Festival.[4]

While developing the script, Holmer was inspired by real-life stories of communities succumbing to fits of hysteria.[7] She first became interested in historic cases of mass psychogenic illness and conversion disorder while producing Ballet 422 (2014).[8] Examples of outbreaks of seizure-like attacks and uncontrollable spasms date back to the Middle Ages, but there are still cases of this occurring today. In 2007, a group of high school girls in Virginia suffered from "twitching arms and legs" that eventually resolved itself.[9] Holmer's research into this subject, specifically cases like the dancing plague of 1518, and the pattern of these fits emerging amongst young women inspired her to explore the nature of this subject in a coming of age dance-film.[7]


After developing the first draft of the script, they began looking at dance teams. Holmer discovered the Cincinnati-based Q Kidz Dance Team on YouTube while she was still working on her pitch for the Venice Biennale College's program.[10] Upon finding the Q Kidz, the writers adapted the story with them and their dance form in mind.[11] After receiving, Holmer relocated to Cincinnati and began working with Q Kidz's coach, Marquicia Jones-Wood, and hired her as a producer on the project.[10] Forty-five out of several hundred Q Kidz dancers were cast for the film. The boxers were also all real Junior Olympic level boxers. Holmer tried to involve the kids in the film as much as possible, collaborating with them on writing their own dialogue. Additionally, they workshopped for 6 weeks before production began.[11]

After casting the Q Kidz, they opened up casting for the lead amongst them. Royalty Hightower, who was 9-years-old at the beginning of the process and had already been dancing with the Q Kidz for 3 years, was cast as Toni. Holmer commented that Hightower had "this amazing power of listening and observing...she was really in tune with her body, in a way that is necessary to play Toni."[12] Hightower worked in depth with movement consultant Celia Rowlson-Hall to appear bad at dancing in the beginning of the film.[13] Rowlson-Hall also choreographed all of the fits with each girl individually. They were developed in isolation so that the rest of cast only saw the performance on the day that it was filmed in order to create a unique and impactful moment for each girl.[8] Two of the Q Kidz dance captains, Mariah and Chariah Jones, helped to choreograph the film's dance battles and drill choreography as well as incorporating in boxing moves for Toni's character.[13]


Saela Davis and Lisa Kjerulff, the film's co-writers, served other key positions in the film's crew, with Davis as an editor and Kjerulff as a producer.[14] Of the film, Holmer said, “This had the most female department heads and most gender-balanced crew that I’ve ever worked with, and that came directly from the three of us being the key decision-makers and hirers. The dynamic was pushed even further because we had a cast of 45 teenage girls; I think it was important for them to see women — and lots of diverse women — in positions of power on set”.[14]


Critical responseEdit

The Fits was widely acclaimed by critics. On Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 96%, based on 110 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads, "As gripping as it is unique, the thrillingly kinetic The Fits marks debuting writer-director Anna Rose Holmer as a singular talent."[15] On Metacritic, the film has a score of 90 out of 100, based on 24 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim".[16] David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter called it a "small-scale but captivating first feature".[17] Similarly a critic for Variety called it as a "promising debut feature" and all praised it for its "meticulous mood of psychological isolation and beguiling mystery."[18]


List of Accolades
Award / Film Festival Category Recipient(s) Result Ref(s)
Cleveland International Film Festival New Direction Competition Anna Rose Holmer Won
Deauville Film Festival Critics Award Anna Rose Holmer Won
Grand Special Prize Anna Rose Holmer Nominated
Fantastic Cinema Festival Grand Jury Award for Best Feature Film Anna Rose Holmer Nominated
Gotham Awards Bingham Ray Breakthrough Director Award Anna Rose Holmer Nominated
Breakthrough Actor Royalty Hightower Nominated
Independent Spirit Awards Best First Feature Anna Rose Holmer and Lisa Kjerulff Nominated
Someone to Watch Award Anna Rose Holmer Won
Milwaukee Film Festival Hertzfeld Competition Award Anna Rose Holmer Won
Montclair Film Festival Future/Now Prize Anna Rose Holmer Won
Nashville Film Festival Grand Jury Prize New Directors Competition Anna Rose Holmer Nominated
RiverRun International Film Festival Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature Anna Rose Holmer Won
Jury Prize for Best Actress Royalty Hightower Won
San Francisco International Film Festival Golden Gate Award for New Director Anna Rose Holmer Nominated
Sarasota Film Festival Jury Prize Narrative Feature Film Competition Anna Rose Holmer Nominated
Seattle International Film Festival Golden Space Needle Award for Best Actress Royalty Hightower Nominated
The WIFTS Foundation International Visionary Awards The Best Director Award Anna Rose Holmer Won
Women Film Critics Circle Best Young Actress Royalty Hightower Nominated


  1. ^ "'The Fits': Why Oscilloscope Took a Leap of Faith on the Low-Budget Sundance Hit". September 20, 2016. Retrieved September 23, 2016.
  2. ^ "The Fits (2016)". The Numbers. Nash Information Services. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  3. ^ Obenson, Tambay A. (January 19, 2016). "Oscilloscope Takes USA Rights to Sundance Film Festival 2016 Selection, 'The Fits'". IndieWire. Archived from the original on January 23, 2016. Retrieved January 19, 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Q&A: The Fits Director Anna Rose Holmer On Making A Movie About 'The Dancing Disease'". MTV News. Archived from the original on June 3, 2016. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  5. ^ "Venice Biennale College- Cinema". IFP. Archived from the original on December 3, 2016. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  6. ^ Brown, Emma (June 2, 2016). "Anna Rose Holmer's Allegorical Adolescence". Interview Magazine. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  7. ^ a b Felsenthal, Julia (June 2, 2016). "Anna Rose Holmer on Directing The Fits and the Power of Contagion". Vogue. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  8. ^ a b Saito, Stephen (June 10, 2016). "Interview: Anna Rose Holmer on Finding Her Groove on "The Fits"". Moveable Fest. Archived from the original on May 7, 2018. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  9. ^ Szalavitz, Maia. "Mysterious Tics in Teen Girls: What Is Mass Psychogenic Illness?". Time. ISSN 0040-781X. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  10. ^ a b Fear, David (June 10, 2016). "How 'The Fits' Became the Girl Power Movie of 2016". Rolling Stone. Archived from the original on August 9, 2018. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  11. ^ a b "Talking About Community Sans Conformity With Anna Rose Holmer and Royalty Hightower Of "The Fits"". Paper. June 16, 2016. Archived from the original on June 17, 2016. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  12. ^ McCracken, Kristin (May 27, 2016). "The Fits Features a Fresh New Filmmaking Voice and a Breakout Star". The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  13. ^ a b "Meet the Cincinnati Dance Squad Behind 'The Fits' | The Creators Project". The Vice. Retrieved December 2, 2016.
  14. ^ a b Page-Kirby, Kristen (June 23, 2016). "Anna Rose Holmer, director of 'The Fits,' on power and puberty". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 17, 2022.
  15. ^ "The Fits (2016)". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  16. ^ "The Fits Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive. Retrieved November 23, 2016.
  17. ^ Rooney, David (September 4, 2015). "'The Fits': Venice Review". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
  18. ^ Schager, Nick (January 19, 2016). "Sundance Film Review: 'The Fits'". Variety. Retrieved January 20, 2016.
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  20. ^ "42nd Deauville American Film Festival - 2016". Deauville American Cinema Festival. Retrieved October 6, 2022.
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  22. ^ "Gotham Awards Nominations: 'Manchester by the Sea' Leads With Four". Variety. October 20, 2016. Retrieved October 6, 2022.
  23. ^ Tapley, Kristopher (November 22, 2016). "'American Honey,' 'Moonlight' Lead 2016 Film Independent Spirit Awards Nominations". Variety. Retrieved December 1, 2016.
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External linksEdit