Yes, okay, since you asked. I’m an excellent speller. I was one of the best spellers in my class in grade school, and I continued to be so through high school. You can imagine how fun it is to ask people how to spell antidisestablishmentarianism and watch the _expression on their faces. So, you can also guess how my love affair with writing began and how refreshing it is to see films that portray spelling bees as pure sport. And appealing ones at that.
If “Spellbound” didn’t appeal to children exposing the wonders and demands of the spelling bee, and “Bee Season” didn’t appeal to the exact audience we were hoping for, “Akeelah and the Bee” will speak to, dare I say, the ethnic audience.
The inner city audience, particularly one of the most under-educated audiences, will find it difficult to take umbrage with a film that presents an appealing central character who also takes delight in spelling words as a sense of self-fulfillment. Parents, take your heads out of the Blockbuster bin. Put down condescending dreck like “Sharkboy and Lavagirl”, and “Sleepover”, and take your kids to see what a true children’s film looks like.
For a film to tell children that spelling, and educating yourself, and striving for excellence, and mastering something you are talented in should not only be lauded, but merited, publicized, and utterly influenced upon the studios is truly admirable. “Akeelah and the Bee” is a children’s film. It should be the framework upon which all children’s films should be made. It shows that you can appeal to educating audiences without puppets, or purple dinosaurs. Why aren’t there more films like this? Why must we equate positive messages only with religious messages? Films can influence and inspire without inserting the religious views of one party. “Akeelah and the Bee” will inspire children or teenagers, to want to learn how to spell better and it will influence its audience to want to strive at something they can achieve. And for that, it deserves all the attention it can muster up.
As someone who has grown up in the Bronx and attended public schools with overcrowded class rooms, empathy towards education, and dangerous neighborhoods, I can perfectly relate to the film. And as someone who has only experienced one teacher who influenced my education, I found this to be one of the most realistic depictions of inner-city education and lack thereof, and the struggle of learning in a community that places it as a last priority. “Akeelah and the Bee” is an excellent film mainly because its primary characters are not only down to Earth and awfully familiar, but the child actors in particular never become caricatures, or gimmicks. They’re never relegated as cartoon characters; they’re real people who are awfully likable. Particularly J.R. Villarreal, as the likable and charming Javier. They’re introduced as and remain human individuals.
Coincidentally enough, Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett re-unite both giving rousing performances in different veins. Fishburne is the mentor Dr. Larabee who takes a special interest in Akeelah and teaches her to play by the rules and enhances her spelling abilities, while Bassett is strong as Akeelah’s mother Tanya, who discovers her daughter’s love for learning. Atchison knows how to mount and alleviate the tension on screen well, and succeeds in making the spelling bee a sport that can keep audiences glued to their seats. “Akeelah” often makes for a truly exciting drama; when she spells, the audience is on baited breath, and you can’t help but cheer for her. Keke Palmer is utterly endearing as the well-adjusted and head strong Akeelah who can never really decide which life she wants to pursue, but is well aware that she has to win the spelling bee, or at least go as far as she can.
A film like this has to be seen. It’s beautiful, it’s encouraging, and it really inspires its audience to commit to something positive. Films such as this can not be merely forgotten.