The Secret Life of Bees



1960s-set family drama tackles weighty issues.
Popular with kids
  • Review Date: October 8, 2008
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2008
  • Running Time: 110 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The ugly nature of racial prejudice is depicted several times. Some white residents of "The South" in 1964 are shown to be inhumane and brutal, their actions based on ignorance and irrational fear. A violent, cruel husband/father ultimately pays the price for his behavior.


An abusive husband assaults his wife (repeated in flashback), forcefully slaps a teen, and is menacing and threatening in many scenes. Gunshots are fired, resulting in an off-camera death. Racial intimidation results in severe physical beatings of two African-American characters. A dead body is revealed in an intensely emotional scene.


Gentle kissing and embracing between two adults on several occasions; teens share one innocent kiss.


Fairly minimal mild cursing: "goddammit," "damn it to hell," "bitch," "bust his ass." Multiple uses of racial epithets, including the "N" word, used to humiliate and threaten African-American characters.


Wonder Bread, Coca-Cola.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

A father drinks beer in one scene, whiskey in another.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this emotional, 1960s-set drama includes multiple scenes of a man reacting violently toward his wife and daughter. The child witnesses her father's assault on her mother (resulting in off-camera gunshots and death); as a young teen, the same child is the victim of heartless physical and mental punishment. The unexpected discovery of a beloved character's dead body is intense and may be disturbing to some young viewers. African-American characters suffer at the hands of prejudiced white Southerners in many scenes. Racial hatred is illustrated by ugly name-calling (including use of the "N" word) and two beatings. But in spite of all of the above, the filmmakers don't exploit or maximize the action. They show only as much as necessary to provide the desired impact.

What's the story?

Running from a cruel and ignorant father -- as well as the uncertainty and guilt surrounding the death of her mother years earlier -- 14-year-old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) rescues Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), a nanny who's become a fugitive, and sets out on a journey to find a place for herself in the world, as well as answers to questions about her mother's love. It's South Carolina in 1964: The president has just signed landmark Civil Rights legislation, and racial tensions are running high. Guided by some of Lily's mother's mementos, Lily and Rosaleen find their way to the home of the Boatwrights, a family of African-American women who run a thriving honey farm. Matriarch August Boatwright (Queen Latifah), takes the runaways in and, along with an assorted group of family and friends, provides them with a home, a heart, and answers.

Is it any good?


Director/writer Gina Prince-Bythewood is nothing if not earnest in her attempt to bring Sue Monk Kidd's heartwarming novel to the screen. The visuals in THE SECRET LIFE OF BEES pay tribute to the beauty of the South, its warm "honey" tones and thick, sweet air. The music is particularly wonderful and enriches the film's emotional core.

But it's not a fully successful dramatization because the movie's heroes are almost all saintly and perfect, speaking in timeless homilies and maxims. The villains, on the other hand, are unrelentingly bad. Only Lily has the nuance of character that makes a movie more a work of art than a lesson to be learned.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the movie's messages. More than 40 years have passed since the events in the film took place. How have racial politics changed? How haven't they? Families can also discuss what Lily was looking for when she left home. Why did she take Rosaleen with her? How did Lily's innocent acceptance of her African-American friends get them in trouble? Do the filmmakers show that Lily's father learned a lesson? Parents and teens who've read the book the movie is based on can compare and contrast the two. Which do you like better? Why?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 16, 2008
DVD release date:February 3, 2009
Cast:Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah
Director:Gina Prince-Bythewood
Studio:Fox Searchlight
Run time:110 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:thematic material and some violence.

This review of The Secret Life of Bees was written by

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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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Teen, 16 years old Written byMiss Laura September 4, 2012

Original story!

This is an amazing film and book! The characters are beatifully portrayed in the film (except Rosaleen seemed a bit softer in the film and T.Ray also seemed nicer and less violent).
What other families should know
Too much violence
Teen, 14 years old Written bypennstar April 2, 2012

the screct life of bees

i thought that it was a wonderfull movie. and really reccomand kids to watch it;
What other families should know
Great role models
Teen, 13 years old Written byResidentEvilPotter November 26, 2011

Wonderful, Heartfelt, Touching Story - Does the Book Some Justice

Amazing movie. Some racial issues, including a character being falsely accused and beaten. The most intense scene of the movie is when one of the characters commits suicide. You see her body and the reaction of all the characters. It's very sad and has an effect for pretty much the remainder of the movie. I highly recommend you give it a chance.
What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models


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