“The Secret Life of Bees”

By Jae-Ha Kim
Amazon.com
October 17, 2008

Headed by an all-star cast of women, The Secret Life of Bees is the heartwarming and well-told story of a young girl who finds love and acceptance from a trio of independent sisters.         

The Secret Life of Bees is based on the bestselling book of the same name by Sue Monk Kidd and centers around the plight of 14-year-old Lily (Dakota Fanning). Assuming the burden for her mother’s premature death, she has a precarious relationship with her abusive father T. Ray (Paul Bettany). Lily’s only friend is her caregiver Rosaleen (Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson).

Set in South Carolina in 1964, when civil rights wasn’t a given, Rosaleen’s life is threatened by racists who’d just as soon see her dead than exercise her right to vote. Lily runs away with her to a town she believes may hold the secrets of her mother’s life. There the pair meet the Boatwright sisters August (Queen Latifah), June (Alicia Keys) and May (Sophie Okonedo)–who produce the area’s famous Black Madonna honey. They eventually provide Lily with the unconditional love she never felt she had and also show Rosaleen that being a black woman in the South doesn’t mean she can’t have a sense of worth.         

The Secret Life of Bees doesn’t try to pass itself off as a historical documentation of race relations in the 1960s. But the fictional slice of life still resonates because of the feelings of injustice that it stirs up.

Though the film is written to show the disparity between blacks and whites, there is always a strong sense of hope, thanks to the lead actresses who bring empathy and dignity to their roles. Hudson exhibits some of the same quiet grace that Regina Taylor brought to her role as the family housekeeper in the superb TV series I’ll Fly Away.

Latifah has the part of wise matriarch down pat, even when she’s playing a sister rather than a mother.

And it’s clear that Fanning is making a seamless transition from kid to young adult roles. Whether she’s giving an impassioned monologue or listening thoughtfully, Fanning brings nuance and intelligence to her role.

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