Akeelah and the Bee
Akeelah and the Bee, 2006, USA
Young Akeelah (Keke Palmer) is a smart girl with a tendency to skip class. Her principal (Curtis Armstrong) signs her up for the school spelling bee, which she easily wins, which nets her the attention of Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), an English professor. He becomes her coach and with his help, Akeelah starts to make her way to Scripps National Spelling Bee.
I liked the film. It was predictable, but it was a lovely, feel good movie. I really appreciated the way it brought the audience’s attention to issues being faced by schools in low-income areas, such as truancy and budgetary issues. The sad fact is that young people in poorer neighbourhoods do not get the same standard of education as young people in richer neighbourhoods. It’s not right. The film also brought to light some of the other barriers to education, such as the belief that learning (or spelling) is “uncool”. Some of Akeelah’s schoolmates tease her for being smart. But, Akeelah is a smart, likeable protagonist and I like that young people who watch this film are being exposed to a character that is learning and working hard to achieve a goal.
Palmer is excellent in the role – she brought so much heart to her character. I also enjoyed Fishburne, who reminded me of every strict but kind-hearted teacher I ever had when I was in elementary school. Angela Basset plays Akeelah’s mother and she brought a surprising amount of complexity to her role. I really liked her in the movie.
I did have one (very) minor quibble with the film. There’s a lot of spelling in the film (obviously!), and some of the words are extremely difficult to spell. During the “Bee” portions of the film, I wish the filmmakers had added graphics to the bottom left hand side of the screen adding the letters the main characters are saying. I don’t generally watch spelling bees on TV, but I think this is something that is done there. It would have made it a bit easier to follow the more difficult words – and, as someone who was trying to spell the words myself as I watched, it also would have made it easier to know if I was right! However, I’m not sure how feasible this would have been, and it may have ended up looking terrible, stylistically.
Akeelah and the Bee was a light, but surprisingly thought-provoking film. You can find it on Netflix!