Akeelah and the Bee

  • Review Date: August 27, 2006
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2006
  • Running Time: 112 minutes

Common Sense Media says

Inspiring drama about a champion speller; OK for tweens.
  • Review Date: August 27, 2006
  • Rated: PG
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2006
  • Running Time: 112 minutes

Age(i)

2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17

Quality(i)

 

What parents need to know

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.

Positive role models

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); local thugs roll up like a menace in an SUV, but 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).

Language

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."

Consumerism

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 does not act intoxicated.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the movie includes mild language (the s-word) and early on, some "attitude" from the young girl at its center. But her "ghetto" vernacular is a show to try to "fit in," a thematic concern throughout the film, for the girl 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, the mother and daughter argue. A couple of women characters wear tight tops; the girl's coach has a drink one evening alone.

Parents say

Kids say

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 cease her "ghetto" talk, 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?

QUALITY
 

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.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the importance of pursuing one's interests and dreams, especially as this can inspire collaborations. How does Akeelah's success 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?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:April 28, 2006
DVD release date:August 29, 2006
Cast:Angela Bassett, Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne
Director:Doug Atchison
Studio:Lionsgate
Genre:Drama
Topics:Great girl role models, Misfits and underdogs
Run time:112 minutes
MPAA rating:PG
MPAA explanation:some language.

This review of Akeelah and the Bee was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Quality

Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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What parents and kids say

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Kid, 10 years old April 17, 2011
AGE
8
QUALITY
 

Great!!!

Good movie. It's very educational because you can learn the words when she (Akeelah)learns them. Her backstory is a little scary but other than that it's great!!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Educational value
Great messages
Kid, 8 years old March 9, 2010
AGE
7
QUALITY
 

Normal drama

One kiss. One s-t, hell is common.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Teen, 14 years old Written byAlinaW. March 19, 2010
AGE
8
QUALITY
 

Heartwarming movie that's awesome for the whole family . . .

Honestly, this is one of my absoulte favourite movies, because it touches on everything, including a kid who beats all the odds to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. It's heartwarming, charming, funny, and the perfect mix between a documentry and a drama/ comedy. It's a great movie with great messages that being smart can have power to change your life and the others around you.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models

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