Akeelah and the Bee (2006)

Rated: PG for some language.
Length: 112 minutes
Grade: BBBB=B
Budget: $8 million
Box Office: $19 million (19 U.S.)

Written and Directed by: Doug Atchison (Spinning Into Butter, an excellent play that flopped as a movie this year)
Starring: Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, and JR Villarreal

A young inner-city girl discovers she has an aptitude for spelling, but conflicts with her mother and a difficult coach cause her stress while the community encourages her in successive spelling triumphs.

Entertainment Value: B
Dead Poet’s Society, Man Without a Face, Stand and Deliver, Mr. Holland’s Opus, The Emperor’s Club, Searching for Bobby Fisher, and even Spellbound. Educational triumph movies are a well-travelled genre with many outstanding members. Judged against that backdrop, this is merely good, not great. I expected a bit more from Larry (excuse me, Laurence) Fishburne, but this is certainly a solid film that brings home the tensions of life for the less privileged. The kids make it worth watching.

Superficial Content: B
Drugs/Alcohol A, Sex/Nudity A, Violence A, Language B
The only concern here, ironically, is with vulgar language. There are plenty enough of all the mild swear words. On the one hand, this makes sense given the setting, but it’s a little odd in a PG movie about kids in spelling bees. I get why they wrote it this way, but I wouldn’t recommend this for younger kids. PG-8 or 10 maybe.

Significant Content: B
If you have a talent, you should pursue it. Parents need to be honored, even if they’re wrong. Losing someone you love can be a serious blow to your ability to function in the world. People in chaotic situations are usually desperate to create a sense of order and control. The fear of failing can cause you to fail, but our greatest fear is to succeed. A community of support makes a huge difference in your success.

Artistic/Thought Value: B
I particularly liked some of the implied ideas about how life is like the English language and spelling. There are rules, there are exceptions, and there is a certain (though limited) amount of predictability to it. Also, there are two different characters who both suffer from the same formula. Trauma leads to fear, which leads to the desire for security and order, which leads people to shun unpredictable situations. Parents of high achievers often put too much pressure on them to succeed.

Discussion Questions:
~The 5th Commandment says to honor our parents. Who in this movie honors or dishonors parental authority? Why does Akeelah’s mom want her to stop spelling?
~Have you ever done something that made you scared or put you under pressure? How did you handle it?
~How did Akeelah’s spelling bring unity to her community? Compare this with the sort fo unity that comes from a common devotion to Christ.
~How is the ability to handle unpredictable situations important in a healthy life? Why do Dr. Larabee and Akeelah’s mom both struggle with this?
~How important do you think it is for kids to learn how to spell well and to participate in spelling competitions? How much emphasis does our society place on academic competition compared with athletics? What do you think about this?
~Why might someone in Akeelah’s situation try to hide her intelligence at school? How might this be connected to the problems of black students in America? Compare the attitudes and expectations of the black, Hispanic, and Asian parents in this movie.
~A big theme in this movie is the idea that we are more scared of success than failure. Have you ever experienced this? Which is more terrifying: insignificance or great achievement? Why?
Overall Grade: B
It’s good. It’s not great. If you like mentor movies, you’ll enjoy this.

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