A fantasy that weaves romance with injustice, improbability with tragedy and abuse with hope, Gina Prince Blythe-Wood‘s adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd‘s novel The Secret Life of Bees is a delight.

The central character is a young Southern teenager who is carrying a deep guilt. At age 4, Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) was attempting to protect her mother from her abusive father when she accidentally killed her. The loss is devastating — not only to Lily, but to her grieving, seething father, T. Ray (Paul Bettany).

The film quickly jumps ahead 10 years when Lily is 14 and coming of age. The year is 1964, and Lyndon Johnson has just signed the Civil Rights Act. Going to town with her housekeeper, Rosaleen Daise (Jennifer Hudson), who is going to register to vote for the first time, they are accosted by a group of men who don’t want blacks to vote. In the assault that occurs, Lily loses more of her innocence when she realizes that not only will her father not protect Rosaleen, but neither will the sheriff’s deputies.

That event begins the adventure for Lily to find herself and protect her friend as they both flee their hometown. Led by a providential hand and an intuitive feeling, Lily and Rosaleen find themselves on the front porch of August Boatwright (Queen Latifah). August lives with her two sisters, May (Sophie Okonedo) and June (Alicia Keyes), in a huge house on a small farm where they produce the best honey in the state.

In addition to following the wisdom of the bees and their secret lives, August and her sisters have a deep appreciation for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Having identified with her so intensely, they have created a trademark of a Black Madonna for their honey business. Honoring a statue of a dignified black woman they keep in their living room, they share the story of a slave named Obadiah who found it and who claimed that the statue spoke hope into his enslaved despair.

Though the civil rights movement is the backdrop of the film, the healing that Lily experiences has more to do with finding her place in a world where she had known little love. We won’t spoil the ways these events weave together except to say that her healing comes from finding the mother she lost long ago in tripled form.

The Secret Life of Bees is a delightful fantasy that is inspiring. It is full of faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is its uncompromising and wise expressions of love.


» The complexity of Lily’s parents’ marriage is better understood when August describes her mother as being depressed. Although this doesn’t justify T. Ray’s abuse, it helps us understand in part why he is so angry. Have you ever lived with a depressed person or with an abusive person? If so, how did you deal with it emotionally and/or physically?

» The use of a Black Madonna breaks through the stereotypes we often have of the Jewish mother of Jesus. Do you believe it is appropriate for each race to see Mary and Jesus in their own race? Why or why not?

» The racial injustice of a divided South was enforced formally and informally. What racial injustice is still present in our culture? Is it enforced formally or informally?

Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church on the Mesa. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.