The Secret Life of Bees parents guide

The Secret Life of Bees Parent Review

Overall A-

Runaway Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) thinks she has found the sweet life when she and her friend Rosaleen Daise (Jennifer Hudson) take refuge with three sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys and Sophie Okonedo) who operate a honey business. But a white girl living with the black family in 1964 South Carolina soon draws attention and the fourteen-year-old finds herself facing the sting of racial prejudice, as well as revisiting the bitterness of her past.

Violence C
Sexual Content B+
Profanity C
Substance Use B

The Secret Life of Bees is rated PG-13 or thematic material and some violence.

Movie Review

Learning the proper etiquette for dealing with thousands of bees while delicately attempting to harvest their honey becomes a metaphor for life in this movie that deals with 1960s civil rights issues, domestic abuse and forgiveness. If it sounds like a heavy watch, it is, but it also comes with ample rewards for the audience's attention.

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Fourteen-year-old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) struggles with guilt over the loss of her mother, as well as an emotionally and physically abusive relationship with her embittered father (Paul Bettany). The closest thing to love she has experienced in her young life is the kindness of Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), a colored woman hired to do domestic tasks. So when the housekeeper is beaten while attempting to register for the vote, Lily determines to rescue both of them. Setting off on a journey toward freedom, the runaways head for a small South Carolina town where Lily believes her Mom once lived.

With only a picture of a black Madonna and child as a clue, the pair are led to the pink-painted home of three sisters living on a honey farm. August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) fulfills the role of matriarch for her sisters June (Alicia Keys) and psychologically challenged May (Sophie Okonedo). With a heart as big as her smile, she welcomes the weary strangers, even though she obviously isn't deceived by Lily's tale of woe explaining their arrival. To pay for their room and board, Rosaleen is assigned to help May in the kitchen while Lily begins learning the secrets of beekeeping to help with the family business. Between the chores, the women come together to offer each other social, emotional and spiritual support -- things that will be needed in great supply in the near future.

Like the honey they extract from their hives, these characters try and distill every drop of hope and love they can from the increasingly difficult and sour challenges that come their way. While the much bigger issues of discrimination and civil rights rage all around, the script turns its focus inward and offers intricate interpersonal insights between the characters and radiant examples of acceptance and forgiveness.

The serious topics explored result in content that parents should carefully consider before sharing this movie with their older children and teens. These concerns include a character who commits suicide after succumbing to overwhelming grief, a death from a gunshot (heard but not seen), spouse abuse, depictions of a father using physical force and cruel punishments to control his daughter, and portrayals of whites beating blacks (hitting and punching are shown, and injured characters later sport bruises and bloody abrasions). Thankfully, sexual content is limited to kisses (some passionate, and others exchanged between teens) as well as the mention of an unwed pregnancy and improper moral conduct. There are also some mild and moderate profanities and terms of Deity as expletives.

Solid, award-worthy performances might make this emotionally engaging story a tad too powerful for those who share similar burdens of physical abuse or unnecessary guilt from the past. But while this film doesn't patronize its audience with a nicely wrapped up happy ending, it definitely promotes positive examples of taking control of your life instead of being a victim and celebrating the amazing feat of simple endurance, leaving the viewer feeling just a little sweeter for the experience.

Starring Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Queen Latifah,. Running time: 110 minutes. Theatrical release October 17, 2008. Updated

Get details on profanity, sex and violence in The Secret Life of Bees here.

The Secret Life of Bees Parents Guide

Do you think it is more difficult to forgive others or to forgive ourselves? Why is forgiveness such a necessary step to overcoming emotional pain and suffering?

August tells Lily that the way you treat bees and the way you treat people are really the same. How do you feel about her four simple rules—don’t be afraid, don’t be an idiot, don’t swat and always send out love? In what ways do you think they could help you to avoid getting stung?

May has a difficult time dealing with sorrow. What strategies do her sisters devise to help her cope with her emotional burdens? From where do August and June draw their strength? How do their examples help Lily and Rosaleen to face their challenges?