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THE SECRET LIVES OF BEES – Fine display of racial equality

Starring: Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson and Paul Bettany
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Rated: M

BASED on an award-winning 2002 novel by Sue Monk Kidd, this film has been adapted and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood.

Sue Monk Kidd drew on her experiences of growing up white surrounded by black women and also living on a property with many hives and a honey industry.

This film version captures the intensity and the importance of these experiences for the author.

This is a highly emotional film, a film for fear and for tears, one of those easy to dismiss as too “feeling”. However, it is also a strong film.

The opening with the voiceover of the young Lily (Dakota Fanning) and the violence between her mother and her father and her mother’s death pervades the film.

Overwhelmed by her father’s moods and punishments, Lily runs away from home with the servant, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson) to try to find out more about her mother and whether she had been abandoned as her father (Paul Bettany) claimed.

At this point it seems important to praise the presence and performance of Dakota Fanning.

In the past, she has seemed too precocious to be true, a little adult in a little girl’s form. Here, at 14, she shows how confident an actress she is and makes Lily a truly credible character.

The main part of the film shows her life with three sisters who take Lily and Rosaleen into their home because the sisters have a strong connection to her mother.

The three sisters are played by three imposing black actresses, Queen Latifah as August, singer Alicia Keys as June and British Sophie Okenado as May.

It is 1964 in South Carolina in the aftermath of the Civil Rights developments of 1963 – and television footage shows Lyndon Johnson signing into law the civil rights legislation.

However, attitudes in the south are still bigoted and the young boy who dares to take Lily to a movie becomes the victim of insult and violence.

These race themes offer a context for Lily’s emotional development.

And the bees?

Early in the film, there is a touch of magic realism as Lily has an experience of bees in her bedroom. The reality of the bees (and August explaining their lives and secrets) comes in the hives that the sisters and the young boy tend to produce honey.

If audiences allow for the more overt emotion that the main American audience for this film feel and display, it is a fine film of racial equality, of relationships and of the process of an adolescent with a difficult background growing up and taking responsibility for her life.

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