Akeelah and the Bee: A Review

My favorite movie about spelling is Akeelah and the Bee. This may not sound like much of a recommendation, as one can easily go through life and not see a single movie whose topic is spelling. However, over the years there have been several movies about the national spelling bee, and of all of those I've seen, Akeelah and the Bee is the best. This is because it transcends its subject matter and touches on universal themes. Yes, it is about spelling, and it has some interesting points to make about this academic subject. But it is also about the pursuit of excellence, the difference between cramming and learning, and the relationship between the community and the individual. It's an emotionally charged movie, but it is not sentimental. It is a drama. A genuine one.

It is also a movie with no bad guys that still manages to depict true courage.

Akeelah and the Bee Movie Poster

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Image Credit: Wikipedia

The Peculiar Place of Spelling in the Hierarchy of Academic Accomplishments

On the face of it, spelling is an inane subject, and the idea of establishing a national competition for champion spellers seems like something that would happen .... only in America!

For the average speaker of the average language, spelling is a non-issue. If it's an alphabetic writing system, and it was designed for the language, then any word you can pronounce is a word you can spell. Not so with English. English is a hybrid language to begin with, or at least ever since the Norman Conquest, and it borrows words freely from many other languages. The way a word is spelled is closely related to its language of origin. Excellent spellers, when encountering a new word, can predict how it will be spelled, provided they know both how it is pronounced and where it came from. It helps to know the roots and the meanings of the roots and to be able to rederive a word from scratch, if necessary.

From this it follows that the study of spelling in English is the study of word origin and of the historical development of the language. In Akeelah and the bee, Akeelah's coach explains this to her explicitly.

Trailer for Akeelah and the Bee

Is Studying for the Spelling Bee Complete Drudgery?

When we learn organically, we open our mind to new knowledge. and the process of learning is enjoyable and fills a deep-seated need. When we study, more often than not we are trying to cram into our memory bits of information that have no intrinsic interest for us, with the ulterior motive of doing well on exams. When a champion speller prepares for a spelling bee, what is that like? Is it like cramming or like learning?

Akeelah and the Bee meets this issue head on. Akeelah is a kinesthetic learner, and her coach soon finds that rhythm is one of her prime motivators. He gives her a jump rope to use while spelling out words. Instead of trying to make her stop keeping time when she is competing, he encourages her to use the method that works for her to achieve her highest potential.

Studying for the spelling bee does involve a lot of memory work, but in order to succeed, the words have to be learned mindfully, and the process must be fun, or it won't work.

Akeelah learns to spell using her mind, her body and her spirit.

Akeelah and her Coach

The Makings of A Champion

Can any child become a national spelling bee champion? Probably not. It takes raw talent, without which all of the preparatory work would achieve nothing. The movie depicts this as well. Akeelah was an unusually good speller to begin with. Nobody made her learn to spell or spend her time on spelling in elementary school. She played scrabble in her spare time for no reason but her own amusement. Before she even began to think of the spelling bee, Akeelah was already a prodigious speller.

But raw talent is not enough. It takes hard work and support from family and friends, and the movie shows us that as well.

We also see the difference between essentially self-motivated preparation and the sort of excessive studying that comes from a parent so intent on the prize that he fails to see the needs of the child.

Akeelah knows that there is a time to study and a time to stop studying, and she is not so intent on winning that she is unable to see the bigger picture and what is really at stake.

Akeelah in French: "Prestidigitation" is still spelled the same!

Conclusion

Spelling bee season is now upon us! If your child is considering entering the Scripps National Spelling Bee Competition, then Akeelah and the Bee is an excellent movie for you to watch together. Keep a yellow note pad and a pencil and a box of kleenex close at hand. It's that kind of movie, I promise. You'll learn new words, you'll laugh, you'll cry! It's better than any other spelling movie you've ever seen.


(c) 2010 Aya Katz

Image Credit: Rotten Tomatoes
Image Credit: Rotten Tomatoes

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Comments 20 comments

Peter Dickinson profile image

Peter Dickinson 6 years ago from South East Asia

Brilliant movie. Saw it the first time the other night. Much enjoyed the movie and your hub. Thank you.


Its Angel profile image

Its Angel 6 years ago from Charleston, SC

wasn't this a true story? It's my daughters favorite movie.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Peter Dickinson, thanks. I'm just beginning to see that this movie has a strong and loyal following!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

It's Angel, thanks for your comment. Your daughter is in good company. Many people are really into this movie.

The script was written by Doug Atchinson, and he got the germ of the idea for it from watching the 1994 Scripps National Spelling Bee competition, but he spent about ten years developing it. His experiences tutoring disadvantaged students also contributed to the story as it eventually emerged.


wannabwestern profile image

wannabwestern 6 years ago from The Land of Tractors

Your review of this movie makes me want to see it. I read another book about the spelling bee and wrote a review about it, but this movie sounds like the one I was originally looking for. After reading Bee Season by Myla Goldberg I saw this movie as a "Hallmark Hall of Fame" kind of thing, but now I will have to give it a second chance. This also looks like something to watch with a middle schooler. Thanks for a wonderful review.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Wannabwestern, thanks! This movies is definitely a cut above the average spelling competition fare. The writing is excellent and the actors are real masters, too. Hope you enjoy it!


Jerilee Wei profile image

Jerilee Wei 6 years ago from United States

I've been wanting to see this movie since last summer. Kaela and I will just have to get a copy of it the next time she has a school holiday. Loved your review.


peacenhim 6 years ago

Great movie! I saw this one a few years ago with my daughter. Extremely uplifting and encouraging! A movie of triumph! Thanks for sharing the review!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Jerilee, thanks! Let me know how you and Kaela like it!


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Peacenhim, thanks. It is a great a movie! I think it has more fans than people realize. "Uplifting and encouraging" are just the right words to describe it.


Joy At Home profile image

Joy At Home 6 years ago from United States

This looks fantastic. Thanks for sharing your perceptions of the movie. I was inspired just reading about it.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Joy at Home, thanks! Your comment lifted my spirits!


spelling words for kids 6 years ago

I just saw the trailer, it looks like a great movie, didn't expect to see Lawrence Fishbourne in this role. But it's more about a little girl's dream more than spelling from what I've seen.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 6 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Spellingwordsforkids, thanks for your comment. It's a great movie, and I hope you get a chance to see it. As a drama, of course it centers on a little girl's dreams, but you do learn an awful lot about spelling by watching the movie, if you pay attention. What I liked was the way it showed which part of it was talent, and which part involved intensive preparation. It didn't undercut the importance of either element.


Maggie.L profile image

Maggie.L 5 years ago from UK

We borrowed a copy of Akeelah and the Bee from the local library and my children enjoyed it so much that it was at the top of their Christmas wish list. We are from the UK so spelling bees were something that they had never heard of, so they were intrigued by the whole concept. Like you say, it sends out more than one important message. This is a wonderful review of this outstanding film. Thanks for sharing.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Maggie, thanks! It is a very moving, special film. I'm glad your family enjoyed it as well.


jamterrell profile image

jamterrell 5 years ago

Interesting movie. I'll check it.Nice review.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 5 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Thanks, JamTerrell. I think you'll like it!


TAmara 4 years ago

I like this movie and have seen several times. Great movie that makes you think about your lifestyle and educational level :) relay good. I recommend :))


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 4 years ago from The Ozarks Author

Tamara, thanks. I wholeheartedly agree.

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