I’d never had any interest in the movie. Spelling Bees just not that exciting (although I will admit that I adore the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and even directed it back in Boston). But it was on the cheap rack at BookMonster, the one that’s outside the store because they don’t care if people run off with some of the deeply discounted merch. Earlier that day, the poll on Microsoft Rewards had asked what coming of age story you’d rather watch, with Akeelah being an option. I can’t remember what the other choice was, but it was such an obvious pick for me, that I quickly selected it and moved on. But the idea of Akeelah stuck with me. Why was I so quick to dismiss it? Seeing it on the discount rack gave me no excuse. I’m oh so very glad that this film got into my head because I absolutely adored it.
Akeelah is an underprivileged kid in Los Angeles (sidebar: was super proud of me for being able to recognize most neighborhoods mentioned), who is very smart, but doesn’t really apply herself much at school. She’s talked into competing in the school spelling bee and a world of opportunities open up for her. Sounds kinda basic, and on the surface it is. But it’s what runs deeper that makes this movie special.
For one, I think this movie is super important for representation. This little black girl (and itty bitty Keke Palmer) has to learn how to navigate her community and limited resources in order to move up. But the fact that she is able to prove herself and be extremely competitive is hugely important for kids to see.
But what struck me most in this film was the sense of community. Everyone she met was rallying behind her. Even the thug that her brother hangs out with would help quiz her and was watching the competition on tv. It was so beautiful and powerful and exactly the message of hope that we need right now.