Akeelah and the Bee
|Akeelah and the Bee|
|Directed by||Doug Atchison|
|Produced by||Laurence Fishburne
|Written by||Doug Atchison|
J. R. Villareal
|Music by||Aaron Zigman|
|Cinematography||M. David Mullen|
|Editing by||Glenn Farr|
|Distributed by||Lionsgate Films|
|Release dates||April 28, 2006|
|Running time||112 minutes|
Akeelah and the Bee is a 2006 American drama film written and directed by Doug Atchison. It tells the story of Akeelah Anderson, portrayed by Keke Palmer, an 11-year-old girl who participates in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, her mother, portrayed by Angela Bassett, schoolmates, and also her coach, Dr. Joshua Larabee, portrayed by Laurence Fishburne. It also explores issues of education in an African-American community of low socioeconomic status.
The film was developed over a period of 10 years by Doug Atchison, the germ of the idea having started after his watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee of 1994 and combined with his experiences spent tutoring disadvantaged students in the area around the University of Southern California, where he attended film school. After four years of trying to secure funding for the film, the documentary film Spellbound came out in 2002 and perhaps, according to one producer, Sid Ganis, facilitated funding. Spellbound features a black girl, Ashley White, from Washington, D.C., in rough parallel to the independent idea developed in Akeelah and the Bee. This film, together with the 2005 Bee Season, also touched off a brief national interest in spelling bees—2006 Scripps National Spelling Bee was broadcast live on television.
The film has been heavily promoted by Starbucks as a result of a partnership between Lions Gate Entertainment, 2929 Entertainment, and Starbucks Entertainment. It became the first DVD offered for sale at Starbucks.
Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) attends Crenshaw Middle School, a predominantly black school in South Los Angeles. Akeelah is a bright 11-year-old and never makes errors on her spelling tests and doesn't really seem to fit in. She lives with her widowed mother, Tanya (Angela Bassett), her three siblings Kiana, Devon, and Terrence (Erica Hubbard, Lee Thompson Young, and Julito McCullum), and her infant niece. Her principal, Mr. Welch and her teacher, Mrs. Cross, recommend her to sign up for the Crenshaw Schoolwide Spelling Bee, which she wins easily by spelling "fanciful". After that, Dr. Joshua Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), a visiting English professor and Mr. Welch's college friend, tests her with some difficult words and finds that she has the potential to reach the National Spelling Bee, even though she misspells "pulchritude".
When Akeelah asks Dr. Larabee to coach her, he rejects her for being rude. Instead, she studies on her own for the district spelling bee. During the bee, during the final round, she misspells "synecdoche". Her sister Kiana catches the final contestant cheating, when trying to spell "carmagnole" because his mom helps him spell with a "g". She tries to deny he cheated, but he admitted it and the judge disqualifies him. This allows Akeelah to get a second chance to take the tenth and final qualifying spot for the regional/state bee by spelling "pastiche". She also meets and befriends Javier Mendez (J.R. Villarreal), a 12-year-old Mexican-American boy and fellow speller who has a crush on her. Their friendship started when he helped Akeelah pin her number on her shirt, saying that he won't "impale her". Javier invites her to join the spelling club at his Woodland Hills middle school.
In Woodland Hills, Akeelah meets Dylan Chu (Sean Michael Afable), a Chinese American boy who had won second place at the past two national spelling bees. He is contemptuous of her — as well as the other members of the spelling club — and asks her to spell "xanthosis"*. When she starts with a "z", he tells her she needs a coach. At the conclusion of the spelling club meeting, Javier invites Akeelah to his birthday party, where she has her first kiss with him; Javier plays it off by saying he only kissed her out of impulse, and jokingly asks if she plans to sue him for sexual harassment. Dylan plays Scrabble with Akeelah and several other guests. Akeelah almost beats Dylan, but loses by just two points. She later overhears Dylan's father (Tzi Ma) reprimanding him for nearly losing to "a little black girl" and insisting he must win first place.
Meanwhile, Tanya, still depressed at her husband's death and concerned for her daughter's grades and frequent truancy, forbids Akeelah from participating in the state bee. Akeelah responds by forging her father's signature on the consent form. She memorizes all the winning words from past spelling bees and works with Dr. Larabee, learning not only words but life lessons as well. After an intense discussion with Dr. Larabee and Mr. Welch at the regional bee, Tanya relents, asking Akeelah how she thinks she should be punished. Akeelah suggests not being allowed to continue in the bee, which her mother says would not be a punishment to Akeelah, but to the two men who worked hard to sponsor her. Akeelah then suggests doubling her chores for a month, which her mother accepts, but instead makes three months.
In the meantime, Javier has fought an inspired delaying action to prevent Akeelah's disqualification; he walks very slowly to the microphone, and asks for his word, "ratatouille", to be repeated five times, defined and used in a sentence several times; he even asks for it to be used in a song. Dylan finishes first, Javier second, and Akeelah third; they all advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee.
As Christmas approaches, Akeelah goes out to buy Dr. Larabee a present, not knowing that he plans to give up coaching her because she reminds him too much of his deceased daughter Denise (to the point he actually calls her by that name). Instead, he gives Akeelah 5,000 flashcards to study. Without her coach, Akeelah loses her motivation. She is rejected by her best friend, Georgia, and feels the pressure from her neighborhood to do them proud. But after her mom tells her that if she looked around her, she had "50,000 coaches", Akeelah recruits neighborhood coaches, including her family members, classmates, teacher, friends, and her neighbor Derrick T (Eddie Steeples), and prepares in earnest.
After reuniting with Dr. Larabee, Akeelah goes to Washington, D.C. with her mother, oldest brother, best friend, principal, and Dr. Larabee, unaware that her coach has paid for four of their tickets. On the plane, Akeelah sits next to Javier, who has an aversion to heights, and kisses him on the cheek. Akeelah and Georgia rekindle their friendship after she invites Georgia to accompany her to Washington D.C. At the competition, her performance is solid and steady, much of it thanks to her "jump rope" strategy from Dr. Larabee. With only a few stumbles, she is smiled on as a crowd favorite. Javier and Dylan also compete; Javier is eliminated on "Merovingian" which he spells "Marovingian," finishing 5th, and begins rooting for Akeelah. The other finalists, Mary Calveretti and Rajeeve Subramonian misspell "mithridatism" and "vitrophyre," respectively. Finally, it is down to Dylan and Akeelah, and the two finalists are allowed a brief break before continuing with the 25 championship words. During the break, Akeelah overhears Dylan's father warning him that if he gets second place this year, his last chance at becoming middle-school champion, he will be second place for life.
Akeelah attempts to throw the competition by deliberately misspelling "xanthosis" by spelling it with a "z" instead of an "x." Dylan, knowing that Akeelah deliberately misspelled the word, intentionally misspells it as well by spelling it with "ses" instead of "sis." While the judging board discusses this unlikely occurrence, Dylan tells Akeelah that he only wants to win fair and square, scoffing his father's do-or-die attitude. They both go word for word up to number 24. Dylan correctly spells "logorrhea", earning him at least a share of first place, and Akeelah spells "pulchritude" correctly to become co-champion. As she does so, a brief montage shows of all the film's main characters (Akeelah, her family, Dr. Larabee, Georgia, Javier, Mr. Welch, and Derrick T), each contributing a letter to the word. Akeelah and Dylan both win while Tanya and Dr. Larabee come up to congratulate Akeelah. Akeelah and Dylan both hold up the trophy, and credits start rolling.
- Keke Palmer as Akeelah Anderson
- Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Joshua Larabee
- Angela Bassett as Tanya Anderson
- Curtis Armstrong as Bob Welch
- J. R. Villarreal as Javier Mendez
- Sean Michael Afable as Dylan Chu
- Erica Hubbard as Kiana Anderson
- Lee Thompson Young as Devon Anderson
- Julito McCullum as Terrence Anderson
- Sahara Garey as Georgia
- Eddie Steeples as Derrick T
- Tzi Ma as Mr. Chu
- Sara Niemietz as Polly
The film received generally positive reviews from most critics, earning an 83% "fresh" rating based on 131 reviews at Rotten Tomatoes and a 72/100 rating on Metacritic. Its critical consensus states: "Although predictable in every way, a winning performance from its young star Keke Palmer and the rest of the cast makes it difficult not to cheer for the little heroine of Akeelah and the Bee. Sort of like Rocky for the middle school nerd set, Akeelah is a warm, family-friendly underdog story, featuring terrific supporting performances from Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett."
Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it a full four stars, writing, "In our winning-obsessed culture, it is inspiring to see a young woman like Akeelah Anderson instinctively understand, with empathy and generosity, that doing the right thing involves more than winning. That's what makes the film particularly valuable for young audiences. I don't care if they leave the theater wanting to spell better, but if they have learned from Akeelah, they will want to live better."
Awards and honors
- BET Awards
- Best Actress: Angela Bassett Nominated
- Black Movie Awards
- Black Reel Awards
- Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards
- Best Younger Actress: Keke Palmer Nominated
- Best Family Film (Live Action): Nominated
- CAMIE Awards - Character And Morality In Entertainment
- For outstanding character, morality, and integrity in entertainment:
- CAMIE Award: Sean Michael Afable Winner
- Chicago Film Critics
- Most Promising Newcomer: Keke Palmer Nominated
- Image Awards
- Outstanding Motion Picture: Nominated
- Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture: Keke Palmer Winner, the youngest person to win in this category
- Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture: Angela Bassett Nominated
- Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture: Laurence Fishburne Nominated
- Outstanding Writing in a Feature Film/Television film or Comedy: Doug Atchison Winner
- Bee Season - a similar film from 2005
- "Akeelah and the Bee (2005)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 18, 2009.
- Ault, Susanne (June 2, 2006). "Starbucks rocks with Berry DVD". Video Business. Archived from the original on August 18, 2009. Retrieved August 18, 2009.
- "Akeelah and the Bee (2006)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved August 18, 2009.
- "Akeelah and the Bee". rogerebert.chicagosuntimes.com. Retrieved May 16, 2011.
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