Gender Roles - Women
Gender Roles - Men
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Gender Roles - Women: 5 Stars
Akeelah is both smart and a little sassy, with an endearing and empowering voice. She is uncommonly determined for a girl her age, and finds a way to stay focused and confident despite the mounting pressure and the fierce competition for the National Spelling Bee. She has her share of insecurities and very real moments where she is ready to give up, but she always finds the strength to keep her wits about her and carry on - and even to be kind to those who have put her down.
Gender Roles - Men: 4.5 Stars
Akeelah and the Bee is full of caring, supportive male characters. Akeelah's principal, Mr. Welch, and her coach, Dr. Larabee, both see her potential and encourage her to work for something she believes is out of her reach. Akeelah initially gets a mixed reception from the other contestants - Javier is friendly and welcoming while Dylan mocks her and questions how long she'll last. But by the end, even Dylan respects her as a serious competitor. Akeelah's brother Devon supports and encourages while her while her brother Terrance tries to humiliate her. But eventually even Terrance begins to believe in his sister's potential. One of the beautiful things about the way the community rallies around Akeelah is the way that these men don't seem to be threatened by or jealous of her accomplishments. To the contrary, her triumph tends to lift them all up, and they're happy to be a part of her success.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 5 Stars
Like many young girls, Akeelah doesn't initially see the power or privilege in being intelligent. She is embarrassed and even afraid of her own talents. She has to be shown that she has something valuable and something to be proud of. It doesn't take long, however, for Akeelah to start identifying with this special gift - to embrace it and fight for the opportunity to showcase it. We see
her passion for words and success growing inside her until there's very little left of the "shrinking violet" that she was when the film started.
Thankfully, Akeelah and the Bee never focuses on Akeelah's simple, charming exterior. There is no discussion of make-overs or trips to the mall in preparation for the big day. The film makes only one reference to Akeelah's clothing, and this is solely to highlight the wide income gap between Akeelah and the other contestants. There is no rude competition between the girls based on trivial things that don't matter. This film is all about Akeelahs' ability to rise above her environment and to let her inner self shine.
Plot: 4.5 Stars
Akeelah's journey from a timid girl into a proud champion is a rare gem among films. Instead of playing a flat background character with few lines or screen time, Akeelah is the protagonist of her own beautiful struggle out of obscurity. Her improbable triumph may not fix all of the social problems or tragedies in her poor neighborhood, but she does give those around her a sense of pride and hope that they didn't have before. Akeelah doesn't battle fanciful monsters or break evil spells, but she does tackle far more difficult issues of income inequality and cultural resignation, and finds a way to come out on top.
Character Development: 4.0
Akeelah has an uncomfortable family history that gives us a taste of who she is. She is often ignored at home and still grieving over the loss of her father. Unfortunately, she doesn't have enough interactions with her family to make these rich relationships much more than background noise. Most of the film is focused on her dedication to winning the spelling bee, rather than the emotional pitfalls that might derail her. As a result, Akeelah isn't as deep a character as we might like. She is somewhat predictable in her transformation from someone meek and insecure to someone unusually strong and focused. But we also see that she has an uncommonly open and welcoming heart, and we don't need much more than that to fall in love with her.
Room for Improvement:
Family: 2 Stars
Although Akeelah's family eventually rallies around her, she has to fight hard to receive the recognition she deserves. For most of the film she has to sneak out of the house to attend study sessions with Javier and her coach, and is even forced to forge her father's name in order to compete in the regional spelling bee. Akeelah's mother doesn't take much pride in learning that daughter has a special talent for spelling. If anything, she appears frustrated that Akeelah is asking for special attention and energy from her. While most of this is done to illustrate the weary nature of life as a single mother, it is also a familiar dynamic that tells girls their dreams and pet projects aren't important enough earn them much praise. Akeelah's mother does come around after the regional spelling bee and the film does a rough job of patching over her initial hostility. A little more enthusiasm earlier on could have left a stronger impression on young girls hoping to shoot for something more than everyday obscurity.
Friendship: 3 Stars
Akeelah and the Bee doesn't do much more than scratch the surface of what might have been some complicated and dynamic friendships. It's heartwarming to see the simple way that Javier and Akeelah come together over their love of words, but it's a very easy blending of two very different worlds. Akeelah never opens up to Javier about her family struggles, including details of her father's death or anything else that Javier isn't likely to understand. He is still a supportive friend, but Akeelah and the Bee leaves a lot left unsaid between the two.
Akeelah's relationship with her friend Georgia does begin to bend under the pressure of the competition. Georgia has always encouraged Akeelah to challenge herself and do her best, but starts to feel abandoned as Akeelah spends more time in Woodland Hills preparing for the spelling bee. In the end, Akeelah is able to mend her relationship with Georgia and win the spelling bee without really sacrificing much. For some of us, Akeelah and the Bee provides a bit too simple resolution of some difficult subject matter, but for the most part, the film presents a nice blend of low level conflict and inspirational triumph that we like to see in children's films.
Akeelah is a young girl with a unique gift for spelling - a gift that she's kept hidden in order to fit in with the other kids at Crenshaw Elementary. But despite Akeelah's attitude and distracting home life, she's given an opportunity to compete in a series of competitions that could bring her all the way to the National Scripp's Spelling Bee. Akeelah soon learns that this competition isn't just about memorizing words. She will need a lot of courage and the support of her community to make it from South Los Angeles to Washington DC.
Kelly is a labor law