The Secret Life of Bees
By Renee Longstreet,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
1960s-set family drama tackles weighty issues.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
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.
Violence & Scariness
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.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Gentle kissing and embracing between two adults on several occasions; teens share one innocent kiss.
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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.
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Products & Purchases
Wonder Bread, Coca-Cola.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A father drinks beer in one scene, whiskey in another.
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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.
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The Secret Life of Bees
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The Secret life of bees
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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.
Talk to Your Kids 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?
- In theaters: October 16, 2008
- On DVD or streaming: February 3, 2009
- Cast: Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah
- Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
- Inclusion Information: Black directors, Black actors
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 110 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic material and some violence.
- Last updated: March 8, 2023
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