The Secret Life of Bees
I remember reading Sue Monk Kidd’s bestselling novel five years
ago. Her story of a motherless South Carolina girl who escapes
her abusive father and gradually experiences healing is warm and inspirational. I
loved it for its Southern blend of wisdom, humor, community, feminism,
and spirituality. I was glad to hear that it was made into a movie
and looked forward to it. While not bad, I found the movie somewhat
disappointing. The film version of The Secret Life of Bees is
sweet, but never especially engrossing or memorable. It’s
like a Lifetime television network movie.
Dakota Fanning gives a good performance as young Lily. It’s
great to see her mature from childhood to adolescent roles with grace
and skill. Along with her maid, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), she
leaves her abusive father and, following a clue left by her mother, finds
the eccentric African-American sisters, the Boatwrights. August
Boatwright (Queen Latifah) is the head of the family which harvests and
sells honey in their Pepto-Bismol colored house. Through the acceptance
and love of the sisters and the community around them, Lily begins to
heal and find her voice. She also learns more the truth about
her mother, Deborah, for whose death Lily feels responsible.
An interesting theme in the movie is the difficulty of forming relationships
across racial boundaries in a segregated society. Early in the
movie, there is a scene in which Rosaleen watches LBJ sign the Voting
Rights Act. The seeds of change were planted, but they were far
from taking root in the Deep South. A bond develops between Lily
and Rosaleen, reflecting a previous bond between August and Deborah.
However, due to their social inequality, there is still tension. True
friendship requires equality, which was not present in the South in 1964.
The film also has interesting religious imagery. Lily finds the
sisters’ home through an image of Mary on a label of a honey jar. The
Boatwright sisters have a statue of a Black woman which they rescued
from the sea and brought to their living room. They call the statue
Mary, and see in it the mother of Jesus, even though the statue looks
nothing like the Biblical Mary. In their religious ritual, they
pray to Mary, and touch the statue to receive strength. It’s
an interesting variant on Marian theology, which recognizes the power
of Mary in both feminist and indigenous cultures. Mary is an enculturated
symbol; she is one of them in the same way that Our Lady of Guadalupe
is so identified with the people of Mexico.
The Secret Life of Bees testifies to the power of a loving
community to bring healing and hope. For this reason, it’s
worth seeing. However, as well intentioned as it is, it seems a
bit flat. Writer-director Gina Prince-Blythewood doesn’t
bring a unique perspective to the film, the way that Sue Monk Kidd’s
narrative did so well for the novel. The film adds nothing to the
novel. I waited for the “aha”moment in which the movie
would come together, but, unfortunately, it never comes.
Tom Condon, OP