A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Kids can learn about the public school system, academic competition, and some of the tricks and linguistic tips used by champion spellers.
Be yourself, even if it means you might not fit into what society expects of you. A quote from Marianne Williamson about not being afraid to live at your fullest potential is a centerpiece of the film. The power of a community to rally and help one of their own find success is shown throughout. Additional themes include courage, self-control, and perseverance.
Positive Role Models
Through practice for the spelling bee and the support of friends and family, Akeelah finds her inner strength and overcomes self-doubt. Javier is a wonderful friend, risking his own victory to give Akeelah a fair shot at the trophy. Dr. Larabee has a strict exterior but is caring and supportive, even as he works through his own personal grief. The residents of Crenshaw, Los Angeles, rally around Akeelah to help her win.
Main character is an ultra-smart Black girl, and most of the supporting characters -- including her mother (Angela Bassett), brothers, and coach (Laurence Fishburne) -- are also Black. Spelling bee competitors Javier Mendez and Dylan Chu are Mexican American and Chinese American, respectively. Socioeconomic differences play a major role, as Akeelah attends underfunded Crenshaw Middle School but goes head-to-head with wealthy Woodland Hills students. Though Dylan and his strict father have redeemed storylines, they fall into stereotypes as an overachieving East Asian child with a "tiger parent," and Dylan is even described as "a little robot" by Akeelah's coach.
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Violence & Scariness
Two girls bully Akeelah for being a "brainiac." They start to push and shove her before the principal steps in. Brief conversations about the death of family members: a dad killed in neighborhood gun violence, a daughter by disease. An adult claps his hands loudly to get his son's attention during an argument (Akeelah overhears and jumps at the sound). Implied gang members are initially portrayed as menacing but are quickly won over and support Akeelah.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Middle schoolers kiss each other on the cheek. One worries, "you going to sue me for sexual harassment?" (It's lighthearted, and both characters are smiling/laughing, but kids might wonder about it.)
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Infrequent profanity and put-downs: "s--t," "ass," "hell," "damn," "freak," "idiot," and "turd juggler." Adults disparage kids as a "little Black girl" and an "uppity" Chinese American kid (not to their faces).
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Products & Purchases
Starbucks (marketing tie-in with film named in the opening credits). ESPN shown and mentioned as the channel that broadcasts the National Spelling Bee each year. Main characters play Scrabble in multiple scenes.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A positive character smokes a cigarette. Another drinks a whiskey on the rocks (but doesn't act drunk).
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Akeelah and the Bee is a feel-good movie that centers on Akeelah (Keke Palmer), a spelling prodigy from a poor neighborhood in South Los Angeles. Expect a bit of strong language, including "s--t," "ass," "hell," and "damn." Middle schoolers kiss each other on the cheek, one character smokes, and another drinks whiskey on the rocks. Themes include being yourself instead of trying to fit in. Characters cope with extreme loss: A couple of sad conversations recall the deaths of loved ones (one by gun violence, another by disease) and divorce. Characters lie to protect loved ones and must make amends. In a couple of scenes, a mother and daughter argue. Though written and directed by a White filmmaker, the movie has an inclusive cast of almost all Black main characters, plus supporting roles for Mexican American and Chinese American characters -- but it does stereotype East Asians as overly focused on academics (a main character calls the Chinese American student "a little robot"). To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails.
Is It Any Good?
In large part, this film's delights have to do with Palmer's winning performance, most apparent in one-on-one scenes with her mom or coach. But Akeelah and the Bee also has something else going on: Embracing the conventions that make so many other genre films feel stale, director Doug Atchison tweaks them slightly with fun details, such as the way Akeelah taps out letters on her thigh with her fingers or sees the letters in her head as she jumps rope. Overall, the film's earnest messages of perseverance and sportsmanship are hard to refute. And feel-good scenes of a low-income neighborhood rallying around a prodigal daughter make this a charming watch.
Akeelah and the Bee may be too familiar of a sports narrative -- and too shallow to offer any real commentary on how Black children can thrive in an underfunded public school system -- but it does deliver a heaping dose of "Black girl magic" for older kids and tweens.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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