The Secret Life of Bees
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Writer: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Based on: Sue Monk Kidd‘s novel
Cast: Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, Paul Bettany, Hilarie Burton, Tristan Wilds, Nate Parker
Seen on: 16.1.2016
When Lily (Dakota Fanning) was a little child, she accidentally shot and killed her mother (Hilarie Burton) who was about to leave her and her father T-Ray (Paul Bettany). Now Lily is fourteen and stuck with her volatile, abusive father. Her only positive relationship is with housekeeper Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson). After Rosaleen is attacked for trying to register to vote while black, Lily decides to run away. She breaks Rosaleen out of the hospital and together they make their way to a place where Lily thinks her mother has spent some time before her death. This leads them to bee-keeping August (Queen Latifah) and her sisters May (Sophie Okonedo) and June (Alicia Keys) where they find refuge.
The Secret Life of Bees is an interesting mix of harsh and naive: it takes many hard realities of the 60s for (black) women and transforms them into a tale of sweet, dreamlike sisterhood. It’s a tale of what should have been possible, even given bad circumstances.
The Secret Life of Bees is not opposed to a little bit of kitsch and certainly not to a lot of melodrama. But Prince-Bythewood handles that well so it never gets too cheesy or feels too emotionally manipulative. Instead I was able to go along with it for the most part.
The only thing I took issue with was the fact that the entire film – which is so much about civil rights for black people and the strength to be found in the community of black women – revolves around Lily, a white girl. It is nice that in the end, Lily has many mothers and a good place to live, but why not make the story about Rosaleen? If it was a take on how entire generations of (at least upper/middle class) white children where raised by black women, then it was lacking a serious point. Because in the end, all those diverse and complex black women are simply seen as mothers for Lily who each have something different to offer to her.
But apart from that, I really enjoyed the film. It is rare that we get films about sisterhoods (no matter the color) and even rarer to see more than one black woman on screen together, enjoying said sisterhood. And all of them were beautiful characters in very different ways. I particularly enjoyed Sophie Okonedo’s May and the way her mental illness was accepted and dealt with by her family, which wasn’t always perfect but always aimed at accepting and loving her as she is. And, of course, June’s and Neil’s (Nate Parker) romance that was just too cute.
If you expect a realistic film about what it was like to be black in the 60s, The Secret Life of Bees is probably not the right place to go. But if you want a film that looks past the gritty realism to the possibilities of love, peace and harmony, as cheesy as that might be, you’ll love it.