21. The Secret Life Of Bees, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

21. The Secret Life Of Bees, directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

Searching For Life’s Sweetness in The Secret Life Of Bees


Imagine living with the reality that, as a baby, you accidentally shot and killed your own mother! A little on the improbable side, but not at all impossible. And hey, this is America, where guns are practically used as dummies. Now, as a fourteen-year-old girl, she lives not only with her own guilt, but also the blame hurled at her by her father whom she calls T-Ray. Resilient even against physical and verbal abuse, including claims that her mother never loved her, Lily (Dakota Fanning) continues to cherish a mysterious photo of her mother’s, that of a black Madonna. It is a curious image to possess given that it is 1964, an era of extreme racial tension.

Motivated by her unhappy existence and a racially inspired attack on her caretaker, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), the pair flee from their unhappy existence. Where are they heading? Anywhere from T-Ray and the police. Other than that, some sort of sign would surely help, as the road is long and their money is scarce. A sign does indeed appear in the form of honey jars plastered with the same picture of the coloured Virgin Mary. Sourced, according to the store owner, from Miss August Boatwright, the destination is set, although what they will do when they arrive is unclear.

August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) it turns out is one progressive lady, as are her sisters June (Alicia Keys) and May (Sophie Okonedo). Strong and self-sufficient, they produce the best honey in the county, courtesy of August’s beekeeping. Each sister is individual, and even their house has its own bold personality, painted a spectacular pink. Accepted into the house under a false alibi, Lily and Rosaline begin to know the sisters and contribute to this very special habitat.

Gina Prince-Bythewood, on the set of The Secret Life Of Bees. (Women Directors in Film)

The film meanders along, at a pace reflective of its Deep South setting. Rather than being fuelled by heavy action, the story develops as a slow unpicking of past untruths and an unravelling of discovery. And while certain situations may be prompted by contextually relevant events, the racial unease of the era remains firmly in the background. Simmering continuously, these tensions only surface in a way that doesn’t overwhelm or draw away from the character arcs.

Based on Sue Monk Kidd’s bestselling novel, the Secret Life Of Bees is essentially about the characters and their connections to each other, while feeding off the theme of love. What is love? How can we be loved and how do we love? Drawing strength from each other is as important as pouring strength into the other, and regardless of the nature of each individual relationship, we see how swarming together can fortify the individual. In this way, the film mines our sentimentality and ignites our emotional core in its soft portrayal of love and friendship.

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