Akeelah and the Bee

Movie review by
Cynthia Fuchs, Common Sense Media
Akeelah and the Bee Movie Poster Image
Parents recommendPopular with kids
Inspiring drama about a champion speller; OK for tweens.
  • PG
  • 2006
  • 112 minutes

Parents say

age 9+
Based on 44 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 58 reviews

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We think this movie stands out for:

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Educational Value

Kids can learn about education, the public school system, academic competition, social cliques, and learning tricks and mechanisms used by a champion speller.

Positive Messages

The importance being yourself and not hiding your intelligence -- no matter what bullies might have to say about it -- is shown early on in the film, as Akeelah learns to embrace her profound gift for spelling. A quote from Maryanne Williamson commonly attributed to Nelson Mandela about not being afraid to live at one's fullest potential is a centerpiece of the film. The power of a community to rally together and help one of their own find success is shown throughout the movie. Additional themes include courage, self-control, and perseverance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Through practice for the spelling bee and through competing to win at the national level in the spelling bee, Akeelah finds an inner strength to overcome her own misgivings about her intelligence, the difficulties she faces in growing up in a poor community in South Los Angeles, and learns to embrace her neighborhood and background as her family and community rally around her to help her win.

Violence & Scariness

Two girls bully Akeelah because they think she's a "brainiac." They start to push and shove her before the principal steps in to stop it. Brief conversations about the deaths of Akeelah's dad and her coach's daughter, one killed in neighborhood violence, another by disease. One speller's father claps his hands loudly to get his attention during an argument (Akeelah overhears and jumps at the sound). Characters who are initially portrayed as tough/menacing are instantly won over by Akeelah's project.

Sexy Stuff

A couple of cleavage shots; cute boy kisses Akeelah and worries, "you going to sue me for sexual harassment?" (it's a joke moment, but kids might wonder about it).


Infrequent profanity: "s--t," "ass," "hell," "damn." During the spelling bee, Akeelah's brother dismisses a multi-syllabic word as being a "white word." While watching the spelling bee in a diner, a middle-aged African American man calls one of the competitors, an 8th grade Korean boy, "uppity."


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.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Akeelah's mother is shown smoking a cigarette. Her spelling coach is shown having a drink at his desk, but doesn't act intoxicated.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Akeelah and the Bee includes mild language ("s--t") and early on, some "attitude" from the young girl at its center. But that's mostly a show to try to "fit in," a thematic concern throughout the film for both Akeelah and adults around her. A related theme is coping with 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. A couple of women characters wear tight tops; the girl's coach has a drink one evening alone.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written byCommonSenseChristian May 2, 2015

How Do You Spell Love?

Akeelah and the Bee is a great movie for anyone who loves words and books, but it's also an enjoyable family flick for anyone, no matter their academic his... Continue reading
Parent of a 7, 10, and 13-year-old Written byDenise A. December 30, 2018

great, but rough at times

Yes, there's some tough language - just once or twice- and it's a harsh environment that the story lives in- but brains and tenacity triumph, and ou... Continue reading
Kid, 8 years old June 14, 2013

BEST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! B-E-S-T!

best movie! i learned how to write prestidigitation.
Kid, 10 years old October 16, 2016


I think that it is really inspiring because Akeelah comes from a poor school that cant even afford bathroom stall doors. Also, she gets a great coach which she... Continue reading

What's the story?

Intelligent and charming, AKEELAH AND THE BEE traces the delicate, courageous process of a little girl's growing up. Akeelah (Keke Palmer) is a resolute, self-protecting 11-year-old with a gift for spelling. Trying to "fit in" with her classmates at a middle school in Los Angeles' Crenshaw district, she misses her father (killed by gunfire when she was six) and doesn't see enough of her hardworking mother Tanya (Angela Bassett) or starting-to-act-tough brother. After she wins a classwide bee, her principal (Curtis Armstrong) decides she should compete: he wants to promote the school, but he's also drawn to the earnestness of this brilliant girl who's been "left behind" by a dysfunctional school system. He solicits the help of his imposing friend Dr. Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), who agrees to coach Akeelah if she agrees to clean up her language, study hard, and above all, believe in herself. Akeelah doesn't quite trust this interloper, and is disinclined to give up what she understands as her individuality to accommodate him. Larabee, however, points out that her notion of independence is only conformity. The film focuses on Akeelah's growing respect for Larabee and his increasing trust of her and her evolving relationship with her practical, hardworking mom. But it is in her relationships with other kids that Akeelah is a stand-out in this formula film. She goes through some back-and-forth with her best friend at school, Kiana (Erica Hubbard), who thrills to Akeelah's success initially, then feels left out of the bee crowd. Akeelah's bee friends, Javier (J.R. Villarreal) and Dylan (Sean Michael), make her feel like less of a misfit, because they share her interests, her drive, and, at least to an extent, her gift.

Is it any good?

In large part, the film's delights have to do with Palmer's winning performance, most apparent in one-on-one scenes with Tanya or Larabee. But the movie has something else going on as well. Embracing the conventions that make so many other genre films feel stale, Akeelah torques them slightly too. Akeelah finds her spelling in a particular sort of physical rhythm, tapping out letters on her thigh with her fingers or hearing the letters in her head as she jumps rope. She not only embodies her gift and her passion, but she also inspires new ways of thinking about intellectual activities. When Larabee tells her that he needs "a lot of order" in his life, Akeelah demonstrates ways that order might be felt.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the importance of pursuing your interests and dreams, especially as this can inspire collaborations. How does Akeelah's success in Akeelah and the Bee inspire others to feel part of a group, as her spelling becomes a community project? How can you be true to lost loved ones by moving forward into the future?

  • How is the issue of overly competitive parents addressed in the film?

  • How is Akeelah's school contrasted with the suburban school she goes to to practice spelling and hang out with her new friends?

  • How do the characters in Akeelah and the Bee demonstrate courage, self-control, and perseverance? Why are these important character strengths?

Movie details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love smart girls

Character Strengths

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Themes & Topics

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