Akeelah and the Bee is a 2006 American drama film written and directed by Dough Atchison. It tells the story of Akeelah Anderson, portrayed by Keke Palmer, an 11-years-old girl who participates in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. It also explores issues of education in a low socio-economic African American community.
Akeelah Anderson can spell. She can spell better than anyone in her school in South Central Los Angles, and she might have a chance at the nationals. She sees the National Spelling Bee on ESPN and is intrigued. But she is also worry, because in her school there is danger in being labeled a “brianic” and it’s wiser to keep your smarts to yourself.
The story of Akeelah’s ascent to finals of the National Spelling Bee makes an uncommonly good movie, entertaining, and actually inspirational, and with a few tears along the way. Her real chance at national success comes after a reluctant English professor agrees to act as her coach. This is Dr. Joshua Larabee, portrayed by Laurence Fishbume, on a leave of absence after the death of his daughter. Coaching her is a way out of his own shell.
Akeelah is mocked not only at school. Her own mother is against her. Tanya Anderson, portrayed by Angela Bassets, has issues after the death of her husband and values Akeelah’s homework above all else, including silly afterschool activities like spelling bees. Akeelah practice in secret, and after she wins a few bees event the though kids in the neighborhood start cheering for her.
Something happens during the finals of the National Bee that you are not going to see coming, and it may move you as deeply as it did me. Akeelah does something good. Even the judges sense or suspect something, but Akeelah improvising in the moment and out of her heart, makes it air-tight. There is only one person who absolutely must understand what she is doing, and Dylan does. Finally Akeelah and Dylan became the winner with all of pride.
The story of this film is marvelous. The presentation and the performance are terrific. This film can make the audience laugh and feel the tension. But the ending isn’t satisfying because this film doesn’t tell about the continuation of the story about the future of Akeelah after winning the National Spelling Bee.
But in our winning-obsessed culture, it is inspiring to see young woman like Akeelah Anderson instinctively understand with empathy and generosity, that doing the right thing involves more than winning. That’s what makes the film particularly valuable for young audiences.