Akeelah and the Bee (2006), filmmaker Doug Atchison’s heartwarming odyssey of one little girl from the apathetic streets of South Central L.A. to the National Spelling Bee finals in Washington D.C., is a celebratory drama engineered to leave you choked up and cheering.
Future Nope star Keke Palmer is adorable in her first starring role as Akeelah, a diminutive underdog in every way. She’s emotionally adrift since the death of her father. Her overworked mother (Angela Bassett) is all but absent and indifferent to Akeekah’s potential when she’s around. Laurence Fishburne, who is also the producer, plays the resistant college professor who becomes her coach and mentor after Akeelah’s principal (Curtis Armstrong) enters her into a local spelling bee,
It’s no surprise that Akeelah’s determination rouses the professor and her mother from their mournful funks and energizes the community around her. Her passion is infectious. The inspirational tale celebrates not just the value of education, but the importance of communal support, a concern for others (even opponents) and the pride of achievement over mere competitiveness. And just as the film heads into a finale out of the documentary Spellbound (right down to the editing tricks), Atchison pulls out an egalitarian and unexpected turn that is, if anything, even more rousing than the usual showdown.
You can’t help but root for Akeelah as she grows from nervous shrinking violet to confident little lady, reclaiming the pride in her talents and her achievements. That’s an idea worth spelling out to a young audience.
The Blu-ray and DVD releases include three featurettes and deleted scenes.