People could make the mistake of categorising this movie as a “children’s” film but it’s entertaining on many other levels. From the dangerous neighbourhoods of South Central LA comes the story of Akeelah, an 11 year old who can spell words that I’m sure even most PhD professors could not.
After reluctantly winning her broken down school’s spelling bee in order to avoid detention she is given the opportunity to head for district and regional spelling bees. But the film is about two worlds really: the world Akeelah comes from where the schools are disastrous, gangs roam the streets, and her mother struggles to keep the family afloat all on her own, and the other world that challenges Akeelah. In a sense the first is the world she comes from and the second is the world she belongs to. One world almost shuns education. Akeelah doesn’t belong there and she knows it. Akeelah doesn’t exactly want to strive for that second world in the beginning; she is searching for a way to fit in and a way to belong. But as the story unfolds and Akeelah comes into contact with Laurence Fishburne’s character, she becomes challenged intellectually and leaves the “ghetto talk” before she steps inside his home where he begins training her to head for the Nationals.
The National Spelling Bee has become practically a sport now; shown on ESPN every year. From the start of the film you can pretty much predict Akeelah will make it to the nationals, it’s the journey she takes which is both interesting and inspiring. The film is about social environments, how to change them, how to grow used to them, how to make use of them. Akeelah brings a scattered community together to rally around her.
It’s an inspiring story which we rarely see about youths in a film that doesn’t involve sports. It does remind me of “Finding Forester”, another story about a black boy from a bad neighbourhood befriending a reclusive Sean Connery, a once famous author who imparts his knowledge.
There are of course important lessons in the movie that revolve around Akeelah; be it family or society or the will and power to win and succeed. Nelson Mandela’s famous quote resonates throughout the film: “Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
I highly recommend it to both old and young alike. It’s a family film but it has a powerful message that doesn’t necessarily require an age limit.
Bottom Line: 4/5