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Akeelah and the Bee is a 2006 American drama film written and directed by Doug Atchison. It tells the story of Akeelah Anderson, portrayed by Keke Palmer, an 11-year-old girl who participates in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, her mother, portrayed by Angela Bassett, schoolmates, and also her coach, portrayed by Laurence Fishburne. It also explores issues of education in a low socioeconomic African American community. The film was developed over a period of 10 years by Doug Atchison, the germ of the idea having started after his watching the Scripps National Spelling Bee of 1994 and combined with his experiences spent tutoring disadvantaged students in the area around the University of Southern California, where he attended film school. After four years of trying to secure funding for the film, the documentary film Spellbound came out in 2002 and perhaps, according to one producer, Sid Ganis, facilitated funding. Spellbound features a black girl, Ashley White, from Washington, D.C., in rough parallel to the independent idea developed in Akeelah and the Bee. The film also touched off a brief national interest in spelling bees—2006 Scripps National Spelling Bee was broadcast live on television. The film has been heavily promoted by Starbucks as a result of a partnership between Lions Gate Entertainment, 2929 Entertainment, and Starbucks Entertainment. It became the first DVD offered for sale at Starbucks.
Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) attends Crenshaw Middle School, a predominantly black school in South Los Angeles. Akeelah is a bright 11-year-old and never makes errors on her spelling tests and doesn't really seem to fit in. She lives with her widowed mother, Tanya (Angela Bassett), her three siblings Kiana, Devon, and Terrence (Erica Hubbard, Lee Thompson Young, and Julito McCullum), and her infant niece. Her headmaster, Mr. Welch and Mrs. Cross, her teacher, recommend her to sign up for the Crenshaw Schoolwide Spelling Bee, which she wins easily by spelling fanciful. After that, Dr. Joshua Larabee (Laurence Fishburne), a visiting English professor, tests her with some difficult words and finds that she has the potential to reach the National Spelling Bee, even though she misspells "pulchritude". When Akeelah asks Dr. Larabee to coach her, he rejects her for being rude. Instead, she studies on her own for the district spelling bee. During the bee, her sister Kiana catches one of the other contestants cheating, which saves Akeelah to take the tenth and final qualifying spot for the regional/state bee by spelling "pastiche", although she spelled a word wrong. She also meets and befriends Javier Mendez (J.R. Villarreal), a 12-year-old Mexican-American boy and fellow speller who has a crush on her. Their friendship started when he helped Akeelah pin a brooch, saying that he won't "impale her". Javier invites her to join the spelling club at his Woodland Hills middle school. In Woodland Hills, Akeelah meets Dylan Chiu (Sean Michael Afable), a Chinese American boy who had won second place at the past two national spelling bees. He is contemptuous of her — as well as the other members of the spelling club — and asks her to spell "xanthosis". When she starts with a "z", he tells her she needs a coach. At the conclusion of the spelling club meeting, Javier invites Akeelah to his birthday party, where she has her first kiss with him; Javier plays it off by saying he only kissed her out of impulse, and jokingly asks if she plans to sue him for sexual harassment. Dylan plays Scrabble with Akeelah and
he will be second place for life. and the two finalists are allowed a brief break before continuing with the 25 championship words. Akeelah responds by forging her father's signature on the consent form. and asks for his word. Javier second. earning him at least a share of first place. and prepares in earnest. which her mother says would not be a punishment to Akeelah. principal. much of it thanks to her "jump rope" strategy from Dr. After reuniting with Dr. classmates. Javier has fought an inspired delaying action to prevent Akeelah's disqualification. Akeelah sits next to Javier. Mary Calveretti and Rajeeve Subramonian misspell "mithridatism" and "vitrophyre. and Akeelah third. teacher. On the plane. but loses by just two points. Larabee a present. As Christmas approaches. knowing that Akeelah deliberately misspelled the word. they all advance to the Scripps National Spelling Bee. and Akeelah spells "pulchritude" correctly to become co-champion. She memorizes all the winning words from past spelling bees and works with Dr. Larabee. With only a few stumbles. scoffing his father's do-or-die attitude. Larabee. During the state bee. and Dr. defined and used in a sentence several times. not knowing that he plans to give up coaching her because she reminds him too much of his deceased daughter Denise (to the point he actually calls her by that name). Welch. best friend. Dylan tells Akeelah that he only wants to win fair and square. he gives Akeelah 5. Akeelah attempts to throw the competition by deliberately misspelling "xanthosis. Tanya. D. In the meantime. and feels the pressure from her neighborhood to do them proud. Her victory raises cheers from Washington. D. and begins rooting for Akeelah. While the judging board discusses this unlikely occurrence. and Mr. Javier is eliminated on "Merovingian" which he spells Marovingian. She later overhears Dylan's father (Tzi Ma) reprimanding him for nearly losing to "a little black girl" and insisting he must win first place. finishing 5th. to be repeated five times. Akeelah loses her motivation.At the competition. During the break.C. including her family members. forbids Akeelah from participating in the state bee. Akeelah goes to Washington. Akeelah almost defeats Dylan. Larabee. to California. . unaware that her coach has paid for four of their tickets. he walks very slowly to the microphone. She is rejected by her best friend. intentionally misspells it as well. Akeelah goes out to buy Dr." respectively.C. Akeelah suggests not being allowed to continue in the bee. but instead makes three months. but to the two men who worked hard to sponsor her. The other finalists. Instead. Georgia. Dylan finishes first." Dylan. Akeelah and Georgia rekindle their friendship after she invites Georgia to accompany her to Washington D. Akeelah recruits neighborhood coaches. Akeelah overhears Dylan's father warning him that if he gets second place this year.000 flashcards to study. oldest brother. still depressed at her husband's death and concerned for her daughter's grades and frequent truancy. Finally. Larabee and Mr. Tanya interrupts and forces Akeelah off the stage at possible cost of disqualification if she does not return for her next word. Welch each contributing one letter to the word. his last chance at becoming middle-school champion. Larabee. with her mother. her performance is solid and steady. he even asks for it to be used in a song. Akeelah then suggests double her amount of chores for a month. friends. Dylan correctly spells "logorrhea". it is down to Dylan and Akeelah. Tanya relents. After an intense discussion with Dr. which her mother accepts. who has an aversion to heights.C. and her neighbor Derrick T (Eddie Steeples). Without her coach. asking Akeelah how she thinks she should be punished. neighbors. They both go word for word up to number 24. Javier and Dylan also compete.000 coaches". But after her mom gives her the idea of "50.several other guests. Akeelah has a vision of relatives. learning not only words but life lessons as well. As she does so. she is smiled on as a crowd favorite. "ratatouille". and kisses him on the cheek.
Villareal as Javier Mendez Sean Michael Afable as Dylan Chiu Erica Hubbard as Kiana Anderson Lee Thompson Young as Devon Anderson Julito McCullum as Terrence Anderson Sahara Garey as Georgia Eddie Steeples as Derrick T Tzi Ma as Mr. That's what makes the film particularly valuable for young audiences. but if they have learned from Akeelah. family-friendly underdog story. Joshua Larabee Angela Bassett as Tanya Anderson Curtis Armstrong as Mr. they will want to live better.Cast Keke Palmer as Akeelah Anderson Laurence Fishburne as Dr. writing. "In our winning-obsessed culture. R. it is inspiring to see a young woman like Akeelah Anderson instinctively understand." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it a full four stars. earning an 83% "fresh" rating based on 131 reviews at Rotten Tomatoes." . Akeelah is a warm. featuring terrific supporting performances from Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett. that doing the right thing involves more than winning. Chiu Critical reception The film received positive reviews from most critics. Welch J. Its critical consensus states: "Although predictable in every way. with empathy and generosity. a winning performance from its young star Keke Palmer and the rest of the cast makes it difficult not to cheer for the little heroine of Akeelah and the Bee. I don't care if they leave the theater wanting to spell better. Sort of like Rocky for the middle school nerd set.