The Secret Life of Bees

by Rick Grant
Rated PG-13
110 min
The Secret Life of Bees, written and directed by Ms. Gina Prince-Bythewood from Sue Monk Kidd’s novel, involves an embattled marriage that explodes into a tragedy. Set in South Carolina in 1964, the characters orbit this catastrophic event. They are intertwined with each other in an interracial family love, which ultimately saves a 14 year old girl at the center of the storm.
Dakota Fanning, now 15 going on 30, deftly portrays Lily Owens as a orphan whose mother leaves her abusive father, but she comes back (presumably for her daughter) and Lily witnesses her father beat her mother. At the time, Lily was only 4 years old. During the struggle, Lily sees a dropped revolver and tries to slide it to her mother, but it accidently discharges and kills her mother.
As the years go by, Lily’s life with her father is a nightmare. At 14, thinking that she is now unloved and feeling guilty about killing her own mother, Lily leaves home with the family maid Rosaleen Daise (Jennifer Hudson). Of course, the racial undertones are based on the raging racism in the South at that time. Two homeless black and white females could be killed in this racially charged atmosphere.
While on the run, Lily and Rosaleen go into a town for food. In a shop window, Lily sees some honey jars with a label depicting a black Madonna. Something clicks in her consciousness and she feels compelled to find out about the maker of the honey. This leads the two vagabonds to the pink colored house of August Boatwright (Queen Latifah)-master beekeeper.
Then Lily makes up a tall tale about why she and Rosaleen are homeless, and asks to stay at August’s home and in return they will work to pay their rent. Reluctantly, and despite her sister June’s (Alicia Keys) objection, August takes the two wayfaring strangers into her home. She puts them up in her honey barn. August instinctively knows that there is something about Lily that is familiar.
Despite June’s obvious grumpy attitude about the two strangers, Lily and Rosaleen are accepted into the family with love and respect. Lily helps August with her bee-keeping duties, while Rosaleen helps with the kitchen duties. With August’s poignant and gentle tutelage, Lily learns about the complex society of bees which serves as a metaphor for healing her fractured consciousness. Lily wants to be a writer and keeps a journal of her experiences.
August runs the household with a powerful spiritual presence. Every Sunday she runs her own religious service, paying homage to a statue of a prominent Negro slave statue. The small group of August’s followers see her as a prophet. August’s sister May had an identical twin sister and when she died, May went to pieces and never recovered. She functions but is emotionally shattered. August and her sister try to help May and are extremely tolerant of her bizarre behavior.
In this odd social group, blithe 14 year old Lily thrives. She never even considered the racial differences of her situation. Of course, her big fear is that her cruel father T-Ray (Paul Bethany) finds her. With her hormones surging, Lily meets 16 year old Neil (Nate Parker) and the two become friends.
This is a time in a girl’s life when she is just noticing boys and there is spark of forbidden romance between the two young people. One day, Lily and Neil go to town and he suggests they see a movie. At the time there were separate colored and white entrances. The two pals decide to sit together. The local KKK hears about it and storms into the theater and Neil is beaten to an inch of his life. This is Lily’s first inkling that the racial divide is deadly serious.
As these tumultuous events of racism are tied to Lily’s acceptance as a member of August’s family, the story builds momentum to the inevitable visit from T-Ray. Given the characters are so well developed into a framework of gentle love for one another, remarkably the story does not come across as sentimental. Everyone, whatever race, will see themselves in at least one of these characters. Rarely in real life does a family exist that is this tolerant and loving, yet it’s entirely plausible in the context of the scenario. Thus, the story rings true and leaves viewers with a hopeful message. Unquestionably, this is one of he best films I’ve viewed this year.


april, 2022