The Secret Life of Bees

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
The Secret Life of Bees Movie Poster Image
1960s-set family drama tackles weighty issues.
  • PG-13
  • 2008
  • 110 minutes
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 5 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 24 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

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.

Violence

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.

Sex

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

Language

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.

Consumerism

Wonder Bread, Coca-Cola.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

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

What 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bywonder dove January 25, 2010

Very emotional...

One of my favorite movies! It's extremely emotional & intense, but realistic which is refreshing. Dakota Fanning is excellent. I love Alicia Keys!... Continue reading
Adult Written byGreat Movie September 22, 2011
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 nic... Continue reading
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'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?

Movie details

For kids who love Family Dramas

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate