Movie Review

Akeelah and the Bee

MPAA Rating: PG for some language

Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez
CONTRIBUTOR

Better than Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Family, Kids
Genre:
Drama, Kids, Family
Length:
1 hr. 52 min.
Year of Release:
2006
USA Release:
April 28, 2006 (wide)
Copyright, Lions Gate
Copyright, Lions Gate
Copyright, Lions Gate
Copyright, Lions Gate
Copyright, Lions Gate
Copyright, Lions Gate
Copyright, Lions Gate
Copyright, Lions Gate
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Featuring: Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Keke Palmer, Curtis Armstrong, J.R. Villarreal
Director: Doug Atchison
Producer: Sidney Ganis, Nancy Hult, Daniel Llewelyn, Michael Romersa, David Mullen
Distributor: Lions Gate

“Changing the world… one word at a time.”

Copyrighted, Lions GateKeke Palmer stars as Akeelah Anderson, an eleven year-old girl from South Central Los Angeles whose hard work and determination land her in the National Spelling Bee in “Akeelah and the Bee”. Spelling is Akeelah’s forte, but skipping class is something she does just as well. This gets her into some trouble with her school’s principal, who presents her with an ultimatum—detention for the rest of the school year, or sign up for the school spelling bee. She chooses the latter, which ends up being more of a joke of a spelling bee than anything; the first participant would rather talk about the condition of the school’s basketball equipment than spell and the hecklers seem to far outweigh the supporters. Akeelah wins the bee easily, which catches the attention of Dr. Josh Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), a former college professor and National Spelling Bee participant, who stands up after Akeelah wins and asks her to spell words most of the adults in the room had never even heard of.

Dr. Larabee believes Akeelah has a gift that could land her in the National Bee, and offers to tutor Akeelah in the study habits he feels are necessary to win. Akeelah has no desire to participate in any more spelling bees (the children at her school have no tolerance for “smart kids” and Akeelah would much rather have friends than win bees), but is coaxed into competing in the next round by her older brother. This begins her trek to Nationals, but the road there may be harder, and more costly, than she imagined.

The objectionable content in “Akeelah and the Bee” is limited to profanity. While there is far less than there could have been for a film that takes place in South L.A., there is enough language to small children away. There is one use of the s-word, as well as a few d-words. There is also a scene where one of the boy’s innocently kisses Akeelah on the cheek, but then asks if she is going to sue him for sexual harassment. It is a harmless scene, but one that may require explaining to smaller children.

“Akeelah and the Bee” deals with a number of important issues that makes it worthwhile for children to see. While there is the obvious lesson of hard work and studying, we also get discussions on death, friendship, fear, lying to parents, cheating, race, upper and lower class segregation, and showing love to those who may not seem to deserve it. The final act of the film, which ventures into some unexpected areas, brilliantly deals with sportsmanship, and the how winning isn’t always the most important thing.

“Akeelah and the Bee” is an unconventional film, in a conventional film’s body. We have seen this kind of movie before—kid rises from the slums to achieve great success with the help of a wise, mysterious person. The difference, I guess, with “Akeelah” is the emotional depth it brings, without ever coming across as forced. In movies like this there is usually always some sort of climactic scene near the end where everything is in jeopardy, but those scenes are generally far-fetched and occur only in movies and not the real world. “Akeelah” contains great drama, but it all seems plausible, as if Akeelah is a real girl and we are watching her documentary.

In addition, the performances are simply outstanding. Keke Palmer is incredible as Akeelah in a film that requires her to actually act. This isn’t a movie where she gets to look cute, spell a few words, and shed a few tears. She must bring great emotional depth to her performance, and Palmer does so magnificently. Laurence Fishburne is one of our better actors, and I can’t remember the last time he was this good. His performance requires him to be stern, yet guarded, caring, yet vulnerable. This is not an easy task, yet Fishburne makes it happen in what may be the year’s first Oscar worthy supporting performance. And of course we get a great performance from Angela Bassett, who plays Akeelah’s mother.

If the reaction “Akeelah and the Bee” got in the theater I attended is any indication of how the rest of the country will receive it, it may be one of the biggest surprise hits of the year. The children in the theater were spelling along with Akeelah, cheering her every step of the way. I don’t think I have ever been to a movie that got this much applause during its exciting scenes, but then again, “Akeelah and the Bee” isn’t like most other movies I have seen in the theater. I strongly recommend the film, and hope word of mouth helps make “Akeelah” a hit.

Violence: None / Profanity: Mild / Sex/Nudity: None

Note to teachers: Free educational guides are available at AkeelahAndTheBee.com


Viewer Comments
Positive
Positive—An inspiring film that offers hope to our youth, especially to those whose lives may seem hopeless. I brought two 8th grade students with me—one is our state’s spelling bee champion who will be competing nationally next month—and they both loved it. The movie is clean, all but for two or three offensive words (not the really bad ones), which were used only to project the reality of inner-city youth. As a Christian educator, I recommend this movie. It was a breath of fresh air… for once!
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
—Debra Tenney, age 41
Positive—What a great movie. Although it didn’t get a lot of “buzz.” This is the kind of movie WORTH spending your money on. I hate to see decent films get overshadowed by the likes of some blockbuster with over the top actors. The acting was good and the message was wonderful. Despite a few choice words, the movie was uplifting and made you feel good as you left the theater.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 3
—Ann So, age 33
Positive—Except for some of the swear words the overall theme was positive. I took my 8 yr old daughter. Fortunately the swear words were over her head. Demonstrated the power of words (notice the difference between the hood language, eubonics and proper English) both in terms of having a positive impact (Akeelah’s achievment) and the power to hurt/harm (her family and friend’s initial response, her competitor’s father’s style). One of the best movies of the genre I have seen in a long time. Several points that I had a moist eye.
My Ratings: Good / 5
—Sam, age 40
Positive—I’m not sure why some of the reviewers commented on “all the cuss words” because I don’t recall any cuss words and if there were some, it was brief crude language that you would expect from a poor school in L.A. I was extremely blessed by this movie (not a very frequent occurance). What made it unusually exceptional to me was the moral virtues that it conveyed very strongly. The story itself was very well done and the movie-making quality was very good, but beyond that, in the midst of all the tension that comes with national spelling bee competitions, there was a demonstration of kindness, consideration, and genuine love among the competitors, neighbors, and family members. Although at times, selfishness and cruelty attempted to overcome, good triumphed over evil. One boy befriended Akeelah early on, even though she was his competition, and when at the national Bee he missed a word, he took the loss with dignity and continued to spur Akeelah on. Another young competetor appeared to be a potential enemy, but kindness toward him on the part of Akeelah won his heart over. In the end, he and Akeelah teemed together to aim for a dual national title. Akeelah’s own town and school sacrificially dedicated themselves to help her train for the national Bee. This was a heart-warming story of love, trust, self-sacrifice, friendship, dedication, and teamwork that was a challenge to me as a Christian aiming for the same kind of love.
My Ratings: Good / 5
—Rachel Wesner, age 23
Positive—I took my three sons 6, 8 and 11 to this movie. We thought it was very good. There were 6 cuss words and several low cut tops. Although unfortunate, these incidents did not take away from the focus of the film. It was a touching film. Regardless of the legitimate obstacles in Akeelah’s life she held on to her dream. Which is an excellent life lesson for any age.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
—Marion Masters, age 36
Positive—I took my daughters (8, 6 and 4) to see this movie and they enjoyed it very much. It was a breathe of fresh air to see a young black girl be successful at something that is not so typical. It was also a refreshing change from what you see of young girls now. This movie was an example to my daughters that you can succeed with hard work and determination. I was quite satisfied and appreciative of those who took part in this movie. However, I was not too keen on the idea of the two characters exchanging a kiss. You don’t want to send the message that it is okay, because then their minds become curious about more. As far as the cursing is concerned, I am not condoning it, but I have heard more swear words used in 1 sentence by 9 and 10 year old students than were in this movie.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 4
—Wanda, age 29
Positive—We need more films like this, especially for the African-American Christians. I hope and pray that God allows me to be a part of the movement to produce such films.
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
—Parris Lane, age 48
Neutral
Neutral—While apprehensive about the number of cuss words that might be in this movie with a PG rating, set in south central LA, I was taken aback when the title character lets one loose within the first few opening minutes of the movie. In total, I counted 7 uses of Heck, Darn, Shoo-Shoo within the dialog of the movie.

Laurence Fishbourne was excellent, and played up the strengths of the title character. Overall, the movie was an accurate portrait of urban life and released a good message. I cannot recommend this movie for those under ten, due to the language.
My Ratings: Offensive / 5
—Robert, age 43
Neutral—I took my 6 year old and my 4 year old daughters. I did not feel comfortable with them hearing the cuss words that the young kids in the movie used. My kids don’t hear language like that in my home, so I was just praying that they didn’t pay any attention to it. If I would I would have known that there would be so many cuss words in this movie, I would have waited until it came out on DVD so that I could watch it by myself, and then watch it with my kids and mute the parts with the offensive language. Other than that, the movie itself was very inspiring.
My Ratings: Average / 4
—Ayana Hart, age 30
Comments from young people
Positive—I thought this movie was the best thing I’ve seen in awhile. It’s one of those movies you want to see again right after you’ve already seen it. You might think this movie is all about spelling but it isn’t. It’s about a girl that learned not to be afraid of what she could do and the people in her life. There is nothing offensive in it, and I recommend it to anyone (especially to middle schoolers) who likes spelling and people.
My Ratings: Good / 4
—Meredith Favorite, age 13
Positive—I saw this movie at a Birthday Party with my friends, age 11. I think this movie was outstandingly made with a very interesting plot. It showed that God made all people equal and anyone can do anything if they put their mind to it. Akeelah was even willing to give up her dream for someone else. They did use a few cuss words, though, I think it was used because it showed what kind of people Akeelah was around. (She herself didn’t use any cuss words.) Go take your kids to see this uplifting movie!
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
—Rebecca M., age 11
Positive—I thought that this movie was wonderful!!! It was very exciting, and it is great to take younger kids because they can spell along with them. The movie taught me to spell better! Go see it today!
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
—Samantha, age 11
Positive—…I didn’t really want to see it, cause I thought it was gonna be a movie about a boring spelling bee, but it turned out to be AWESOME. …it was DEFINITELY an acceptable movie.…
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
—M, age 11
Positive—I thought this movie was really good, I saw it with my 2 sisters, ages 10 and 14. Both of them liked this movie. I think this is a good movie for families to see. There’s nothing bad in it at all. I thought it was a little boring, But, overall it was good.
My Ratings: Good / 4½
—Ashley, age 13
Positive—This movie was better than I thought it would be. It was very clean, besides a few mild swear words. It was very enjoyable, and my whole familly liked it. I highly reccomend this film.
My Ratings: Average / 4
—Anthony, age 11
Neutral—I thought this movie was really really boring, and there was nothing really to it. But, if you want to see it, there isn’t any thing wrong with the movie other than a few swear words, but personally I thought the movie was uninteresting.
My Ratings: Average / 1
—Julia, age 13