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The Secret Life of Bees

October 28, 2008


To the woman sitting next to me at the 7:15 show in Emeryville, California’s “Emerybay” theatre on opening night…


Dear Lady Whose Name I Did Not Catch,

First, thank you for giving me an angle from which to approach this review.   Sometimes I have so many ideas running through my head when watching a movie that it becomes maddening to decide what to say and how to say it while at the same time enjoying my viewing experience (or not) and taking notes in the dark .  I bet you won’t forget your experience that night, will you?  How many times do nosy film critics-journal and pen in hand- approach you with random, social-worky questions as you’re filing out of the aisles and chatting it up with your compadres?  Me thinks not so much.

The way you behaved yourself that night I couldn’t help but get all up in your kool aid.  At times I became more anticipatory of and preoccupied with your reactions than the exceptional performances of Alicia Keys, Queen Latifah, and Jennifer Hudson combined.  The way you thrashed around in your seat, continuously bumped my elbow, cackled with your girlfriend, and outright admonished the behaviors of the townspeople I might as well have given you my ten dollars and twenty-five cents for a night’s worth of entertainment. 

What were you thinking?   Though I may have appeared quite stoic sitting next to you, I was moved as well.  To be sure, director Gina Prince-Bythewood did an amazing job with the screenplay adaptation of the novel, weaving Lily’s (Dakota Fanning) tale of tragedy into a touching portrait of finding acceptance and love with an unconventional family.  A staunch advocate of community organizers everywhere (Go, Barack!) I too, marveled at Bythewood’s ability to translate the novel’s metaphors of  “queen bees as nurturers” and “worker bees as support systems”  into captivating images on the big screen.  The social worker in me stood up and applauded several times, especially as Lily began to confront the guilt from her past and make room in her heart to love- even if it meant encountering danger.

Which brings me back to you, my muse.  Given your a-little-too-loud exclamations of “oh my God” and “this is crazy”  during the intimate scenes between Lily and Zach, you appeared to struggle most with the interracial romance aspect of the film.  When I asked you why you had such strong reactions, you simply responded “I was afraid”.  With a bit more prodding on my end you acknowledged that though you “loved’ the film, watching Lily and Zach together made you fear the inevitable violence that was to (and did) occur.  A Black woman, you appeared to be somewhere in your fifties so it is with no surprise that you responded in the manner that you did.  In that case bruised elbow forgives you.

So we both agreed that we loved the movie.  In fact, I loved it so much that I would go as far as making it a part of my DVD collection.  The performances-most notably those of Dakota Fanning and Sophie Okonedu- were incredible.  The message?  As Lily alluded to in the end, she could let go of the grief related to her mother as she found new mothers in the most unlikely of places.  When we are ready to let go of the past and move forward with hope in the future miraculous things can happen.  It reminds me of a quote I heard from Oprah: “The universe is so compassionate.  It sends you what you need to heal.”  

I understand that some scenes were uncomfortable to watch and can further understand how movies like this can push some audiences away.   It is my hope however that you in particular (and Black folks in general) walk away from movies like this one marveling at how far we’ve come as a people.  The country is about to put a Black man in the White House for goodness sake!  Perhaps we can now begin to cease our lamentations of the past and move forward to embracing a bright and miraculous future. 



The Movie Shrink