Akeelah and the Bee
Cast: Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Keke Palmer, Curtis Armstrong, J.R. Villarreal,
Sean Michael, Sahara Garey
Director/Writer: Doug Atchison
Theatrical release: 2006; available on DVD
Whether or not you're a crossword puzzle fanatic, someone who lives for the thrill of a triple-word-score play in Scrabble®, or you appreciate the power of words in poetry, story, or song, you can probably find something to cheer about in the appealing film Akeelah and the Bee.
Akeelah Anderson is a bright eleven-year-old who masks her intelligence in order to fit into her school, an underachieving site in South Central Los Angeles. But Akeelah's teacher sees promise and coerces her into entering the school's spelling bee. At the same time, the school's principal, under pressure to put the school on the 'meeting national standards' map, talks with an old college friend — now an esteemed UCLA professor, former National Spelling Bee contestant, and a spelling bee coach — to take on whichever student wins the school bee. Once Akeelah succeeds at that, the prof challenges her with more and more complex words to see if she has what it takes to go all the way to the national event.
Akeelah's path to the competition in Washington, D.C., is filled with challenges and with growth, as is the parallel path of her coach/mentor, her family, and her friends. Encouraging Akeelah throughout the film is an inspiring quotation, often attributed to Nelson Mandela, which fits the enviroment of this setting. But the quotation is actually by Marianne Williamson and found in her book A Return To Love: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate; our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, georgeous, talented, and fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be?"
In doing the publicity tour for the film, producer and star Fishburne (a k a Morpheus from The Matrix films and Langston on CSI:) called Oprah for some nationwide exposure. As they talked about the amazing performance of 12-year-old Keke Palmer as Akeelah, Winfrey, Fishburne, and Bassett agreed that the other "best" thing about the film is that it shows the truly more typical American black families — ones whose kids stay in school, speak English clearly, take care of their friends and neighbors, and work hard to succeed in whatever they do. In the film, Fishburne's character, knowing its a defeatist affectation, insists that Akeelah "leave the ghetto talk outside" of their work on the spelling bee.
The film has no foul language or suggestive situations. It's a great family film, an intelligent film, and an inspiring one, too.