Poignant film confronts controversial topics

Mary Musilek

An act of domestic violence, a child cruelly punished by her easily angered father, and the beating of a black housekeeper set the tone for what is to come. Loosely based on life in South Carolina in 1964, The Secret Life of Bees, based on a novel by Sue Monk Kidd, is an emotional and yet enlightening tale about a child growing up with hardships portrayed as common to this time.

Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) is a child who feels motherless right from the start. The movie begins with four year old Lily accidentally killing her mother while her father (Paul Bettany) is beating the mother for packing her things and wanting to leave again. This shocking start reveals the reasons for the way Lily acts throughout the movie: lonely and full of grief, curious about her mother, and desperately wanting to leave her father.

The beginning of the movie is gripping due to the fact that the incidents feel so real and that Lily truly cares about people, even her black housekeeper, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson). Rosaleen was beaten by a white mob and was spending time in the hospital, when Lily arrived to free her and embark on her journey to find out more about her mother and to find the place where she belongs. Guided only by an image her mother left of a black Mary Magdalene with an inscription on the back saying “Tiburon,” Lily leads Rosaleen to this town, hoping to stumble upon another clue that will guide her.

By this point, her father is outraged and although we don’t see much of him, the few scenes he’s in show his irritability and also his desire to be with his daughter again. Lily finds where she needs to be even though she doesn’t know why. Welcomed in to the home of August Boatwright (Queen Latifah), Lily and Rosaleen begin their new lives; Lily helps August by working with the bees and Rosaleen works with August’s sister May Boatwright (Sophie Okonedo) in the kitchen.

The movie’s overall mood is quite sad, but scenes full of humor and happiness are intermixed among the dark scenes. The movie has multiple themes: racial tension, independence, overwhelming grief, class differences, mothering, and love versus hate. The stereotypes and racial prejudices of this time keep the plot moving, but the theme of mothering grasps the audience’s attention and brings emotion to the movie.
Dakota fanning provides a moving performance, along with a powerful performance by Queen Latifah. When Fanning’s character, Lily, experiences flashbacks of killing her mother, Fanning’s true acting talent shines through. Queen Latifah caught the attention of the audience whenever she eloquently spoke about troubles black people experienced, and especially when she talked about the secret life of bees. Jennifer Hudson and Alicia Keys add to the depth of the cast by depicting believable and emotion-filled characters.
Fanning’s portrayal of Lily is gripping, and as the movie progresses, Lily finds that even though she doesn’t have her birth mother, she is surrounded by women who love her like a mother would and who are willing to treat her as a daughter. August Boatwright also emphasizes that even though it is easy to hate someone or something when you are angry, it is better to show love for the people and ideas you believe in.