Gender Roles – Women
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Violence Against Women
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles - Men
Gender Roles - Women: 5 Stars
The Secret Life of Bees is full of strong-willed women. The first is Lily, a young girl searching for some connection with her late mother. She carries a heavy burden from her childhood, but still has enough clarity to search for a better life. She also has enough heart and rebellion in her to stand by Rosaleen, despite the dangers.
Rosaleen is another impressive character with a far different set of obstacles in front of her. Although she isn’t given much dialogue, when she does speak we see glimpses of something fierce and strong within her. She makes a decision to go to town to register to vote and doesn’t back down when confronted by a group of white men. She refuses to apologize to them, even as she’s being brutally assaulted, later explaining to Lily that apologizing to those men would’ve been just another way of dying - but one that she’d have to live with.
Finally, the Boatwright sisters, August, June and even May, earn their own living as successful businesswomen in a time when it was rare for any woman, much less women of color, to have the sort of financial freedom that these women enjoy. The sisters are sharp, spiritual and proud, offering their home, their wisdom, and their hearts to the refugees that come to their door.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 5 Stars
The women in the Secret Life of Bees come with various skin tones, various sizes and span multiple generations. It’s rare to see this kind of diversity in the cast of any film, but more importantly, every one of these women has her gifts to offer and makes a positive role model for any young girl, Black or white. Frequently, when a film contains this many female characters, only one or two of them are portrayed in a positive light – the others being villains or comic relief. In this film, no matter what they look like, they carry a proud and independent nature.
Plot: 5 Stars
The Secret Life of Bees is the story of a young girl who makes a bold decision to find a better life for herself. To find some evidence that she deserves love despite her heavy past. Lily is her own hero in many ways, but also relies on the comfort and strength of the women around her. Likewise, Rosaleen stands up for herself early on in the film, but also relies on Lily to help her out of the hospital and escape town. August Boatwright plays the part of mother and protector. And even June and May have their roles in keeping the group together. There are no victims in this film, regardless of the harsh circumstances that bring them together. Every one of these women shares some sense of triumph or victory over the adversity that plagues them.
Character Development: 5 Stars
For the most part, this is Lily’s story and her character is fleshed out far more than the others. We have a good sense of the sort of upbringing she's had, the hurt she’s carrying, and her fears that she’s unlovable. We also see her struggle to overcome all of this before the movie ends - and begin to focus on her dreams for the future.
The other women have smaller roles, but each of them is given enough context for us to relate to them as individuals with stories of their own. It’s unfortunate that we don’t learn more about June. About why she’s so afraid of marriage and how she learns to trust her love for Neil. We could also use some more insight into Rosaleen’s character. How she adjusts her own feelings of inadequacy when she finds herself surrounded by so many educated Black women. But even without these additional details, the supporting women in this film are relatable, inspiring and fully human.
Love: 4 Stars
Lily and Zach don’t know each other well, but they share a common sense of vulnerability in a world so mixed up with hate. They talk about their dreams without acknowledging how impossible things seem and give each other a sense of hope. Lily never completely reveals her secrets to Zach, and we can only guess how he might react if he knew everything about her. But he doesn’t turn on her when he finds out she’s been lying about who she is. He only encourages her to come out with the truth and to face whatever comes - encouraging her to be the best person she can be.
Friendship: 5 Stars
The female friendships in this film are bold and sincere. Rarely are these women caught bantering about inconsequential things like jewelry or shoes. They talk about pain. They talk about hope. They talk about love. The Secret Life of Bees provides young girls with a beautiful example of what true female friendships can and do look like.
Violence Against Women: 5 Stars
The Secret Life of Bees contains a few ugly scenes of domestic violence and race-based brutality. None of this is done in a way that glorifies or normalizes violence against women. To the contrary, the scenes serve to expose the baseness in the men who resort to this type of conduct. This film finds a way to expose the pain and the hatred behind such and the long term effects. These scenes may stir our emotions, but they never trump or detracts for the overall message of the film.
Gender Roles - Men: 3 Stars (Spoilers)
Most of the white men in this film are toxic and abusive. Lily’s father, T-Ray, is physically violent with his wife and uses very harsh discipline with his daughter. The other white men in town are vocal segregationists who have no problem using their fists against Rosaleen. Towards the end of the film we do see some small slivers of vulnerability behind T-Ray’s tough exterior, but it isn't enough to make up for his vulgar presence throughout the rest of the film.
Zach, on the other hand, a young Black boy from Tiburon, is far more hopeful and open. He shares his dreams with Lily and expresses some hurt when he learns that she, like all the other whites, has such limited expectations of Black men. After Zach is kidnapped and beaten by a group of white men for taking Lily to the movies, it’s clear that he has hardened a bit. He expresses a very justified sense of anger at the world around him, but just the same, promises Lily that he won’t let his hatred consume him.
Family: 1 Star (Spoilers)
The Secret Life of Bees paints a dismal picture of a young girl’s life without a mother figure. Although there is some suggestion that T-Ray does care for his daughter, their relationship is mostly cold and loveless. T-Ray’s inability to connect with his daughter ultimately forces her to seek comfort in the home of three women she’s never met.
It is surprising, nonetheless, to see that Lily’s quest for answers about her mother doesn’t bring her the perfect ending that she’s always longed for. The film hints that a mother’s love isn’t flawless either. That sometimes mothers and fathers are just damaged people who, despite their best intentions, aren’t able to do what’s best for their children.