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The Secret Life of Bees

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material and some violence.

Reviewed by: Malaika Ware

Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adventure, Drama
2 hr. 0 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
October 17, 2008 (wide—1,400 theaters)
DVD: February 3, 2009
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Fox Searchlight Pictures

Bees in the Bible


RACIAL PREJUDICE—What are the consequences of racial prejudice and false beliefs about the origin of races? Answer

Racism, Racial Issues and Christianity
Get biblical answers to racial hot-topics. Where did the races come from? How did skin color come about? Why is it important to have a biblical foundation for such issues?

I think I was sexually abused, but I'm not sure. What is sexual abuse, and what can I do to stop the trauma I am facing now? Answer

Child abuse—sexual

Stories of sexual abuse

Does God feel our pain? Answer

Why does God allow innocent people to suffer? Answer


Suicide, what does the Bible say? Answer

If a Christian commits suicide, will they go to Heaven? Answer

Other Biblical issues



Biblical women with admirable character, include: Mrs. Noah, Mary (mother of Jesus), Esther, Deborah, and Milcah, daugher of Zelophehad.


Mary, mother of Jesus

Featuring: Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo, Paul Bettany, Hilarie Burton, Tristan Wilds, Nate Parker, See all »
Director: Gina Prince-Bythewood
Love and Basketball
Producer: Donners’ Company, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Overbrook Entertainment, Ed Cathell III, James Lassiter, Ewan Leslie, Joe Pichirallo, Jada Pinkett Smith, Lauren Shuler Donner, Will Smith
Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

The film begins with Lilly (Dakota Fanning—“War of the Worlds,” “Man on Fire”) recalling the events preceding her mother’s (Hilarie Burton) death for which she feels responsible. Lilly was 4 years old when her mother died. Fast forward 10 years and Lilly is turning 14 years old, living with her abusive father (Paul Bettany), missing her mother tremendously, and desperately trying to find out more about her. As a matter of fact, for her 14th birthday, Lilly suggests to her father that instead of buying her a charm bracelet, she would love to hear from him more about her mother. In response, he makes one condescending remark about her mother and then goes to work, leaving her with her caretaker, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), a black woman.

The only memories that Lilly had of her mother were in her head and a few items in a box hidden in the peach tree fields. One night, Lilly goes out into the field and digs up this box. She looks at the items, and then she lies down with her eyes closed and places the items on her stomach as if she’s praying to God to give her insight into her mother’s life. When Lilly’s father catches her buttoning up the bottom portion of her shirt, he incorrectly accuses her of engaging in promiscuous behavior and then administers a grueling punishment which leaves both of her knees bleeding. The next day, Rosaleen takes Lilly with her to register to vote, but they are deterred by a group of racist white men and Rosaleen is beaten. It was these events that prompted Lilly to run away from home, help Rosaleen escape from the hospital (where she had been treated for her injuries and arrested for her “behavior”), and journey to Tiburon, South Carolina. Tiburon was the home of the well-to-do Boatright Sisters-May (Sophie Okonedo), June (Alicia Keys), and August (Queen Latifah—“The Perfect Holiday,” “Hairspray”). It was there that Lilly (and Rosaleen) learned about her mom, love, faith, and forgiveness.

The overwhelming theme of the movie was the importance and the power of love, on all levels. May Boatright suffered from depression, but instead of admitting her to a psychiatric hospital, as “everyone” had recommended they do, June and August took care of her at home and they gave her the idea for an outlet for her grief-The Wailing Wall. The Boatright Sisters, who were black, took in Lilly, who was white and loved her as if she were one of their biological daughters. Lilly reciprocated that love. During a time when racism and segregation was a way of life for residents of the South, such relationships were uncommon. August Boatright made a living producing and selling honey, and Zachary Taylor (Tristan Wilds), a black teenage boy who hoped to become an attorney one day, worked for her. It was Lilly’s relationship with Zach that led to her first experience with romantic love. Rosaleen had formed such a bond with May and the other sisters, that she was later given a new name, “July”. As I Corinthians 13 says about love,

“Love suffers long and is kind… it does not behave rudely… it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

The idea that faith empowers people was also apparent in the film, but the question is, “Faith in what?” In the movie, the Boatright Sisters believed that Black Mary was originally sent by God to bring comfort and encouragement to the Black slaves of the American South. Therefore, the Boatright Sisters and the other “Daughters of Mary” prayed to her (as the Boatrights had a statue of Black Mary in their home) and held Sunday worship services in her honor. While society tends to commend faith in something or anything, God’s Word is rather specific in whom we should place our faith:

Exodus 20:3-“You shall have no other gods before Me”.

Exodus 20:4,5a-“You shall not make for yourself a carved image-any likeness of anything that is in Heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them”.

John 3:16-“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus], that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

John 14:6-Jesus said to him, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me”.

In the end, although Lilly does not go back to live with her father (one he finally locates her), she does forgive him. Forgiveness releases the offender from having to “right their wrong”. Jesus’ forgiveness released us all from that burden when He took on our sin and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24a). What an awesome example of forgiveness for us all!

While there were good lessons to be learned from the film, there were some other things that were disturbing and offensive:

  • Profane language-Everything was said from bulls_ _ t and b_ tch to Holy s_ _ t and G_ d d_ _n.

  • Suicide-After learning that Zach had been beaten and then kidnapped, May Boatright committed suicide.

  • Racial violence-Rosaleen was harassed for trying to register to vote and then was beaten for responding disrespectfully. As mentioned above, Zach was beaten and kidnapped for watching a movie at the theatre with Lilly.

  • Domestic violence-The abusive acts of Lilly’s father were difficult to watch.

Overall, I liked the movie. Gina Prince-Blythewood did a superb job of bringing the novel, written by Sue Monk Kidd, to the big screen. I laughed. I cried. The film was very moving, indeed! However, I find it difficult to recommend to others due to the characters’ worship of Black Mary (among other things), rather than Jesus Christ, who is worthy of all honor, glory, and praise.

The problem is that in the film, there is Biblical truth mixed in with the idol worship making it difficult for some to discern what is of God and what is not. Unfortunately, the goal of the enemy is to do whatever is necessary to lead us away from Jesus.

Violence: Moderate / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: None

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—This is not a Christian film, but it is film which upholds high moral values. In fact, it demonstrates how to maintain a positive outlook in bad times. The example of these black people during the civil rights movement could be a model of how a Christian should stand up to persecution, with grace toward the persecutor and an inner strength to carry on. The ladies worship a black Madonna, so that's kinda weird, but we can be reminded to draw our strength from the one true God.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4
Jennifer A Bowers, age 52
Positive—I really enjoyed this film. At first I wasn't sure I wanted to see it. You know, the old white folk runs off to be with kind black folks during the Civil Rights struggles story that has been told in countless made for television movies. However, the film was wonderful. I'm not a fan of Dakota Fanning, but Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson are some of my favorite actresses/singers. The film had a whole lot of spirituality and spiritual themes. It looked at southern culture and religion with an emphasis on black southern spirituality.

For those who only wish to see evangelical type religion portrayed, then this is not the film for you. The religion portrayed is syncretism, a mixture of Roman Catholic (via the Black Madonna) with traditional black gospel style religion. Sophie Okonedo's performance was beautiful as was Queen Latifah’s and Jennifer Hudson. Even Dakota Fanning’s performance was noteworthy.

I enjoyed the film as it told of forgiveness and spirituality without being overtly religious (institutionalized), but instead it was more about personal spirituality. This film spoke to my heart and the spiritual themes are welcoming considering that most movies these days do not seem to care about nourishing the soul and speaking of forgiveness.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Christopher, age 21
Positive—The film The Secret Life of Bees impressed me in it's style and the quality of the acting. The cast did an amazing job of portraying the characters from Sue Monk Kidd's extremely quirky, yet entertaining novel. It is in no way a “Christian film” as can be easily discerned(no one claimed to be a Christian or live by Christian values) But once one accepts this is a story about the lives of people who do not know Jesus Christ or follow His ways, I think it is not offensive for a Christian to watch. The characters in the film suffered a lot and it is evident no one let Christ direct their lives.

I thought afterwards of how the lives of these very real characters would be if they let Christ change their hearts and help them get through persecution and evil brought upon them by others. If you are looking to watch a drama with deep meaning or one that will make you think, this is not for you as this is only high quality entertainment.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Elizabeth Bartee, age 45
Positive—I have read your review of “The Secret Lives of Bees,” and while I agree with much of it, there are some things we need to point out.

As the director of “Shattered Men,” I saw some things others may not have. Yes, there was domestic abuse in it, but we only saw one side as we do in society in general. In reality, abuse is a two way street.

Yes, as you point out, we see racial violence but this is part of our history and it still goes on today. We are also seeing men in general become the new “nigger” (and I do not intend to be a racist in this statement) Rosaleen was beaten and then arrested because her attackers were White. Today men are arrested for being battered thanks to must arrest laws via the Violence Against Women Act. It was wrong then, and it is wrong now. We need to learn to value ALL of our people and to look at both sides of abuse. See all »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
Pastor Ken, age 62 (USA)
Neutral—I did not read the book, so I don't know how well it translated into film. However, as a movie, the content is thematically choppy. Except for Dakota Fanning’s consistent and well-defined portrayal of Lilly, the tortured girl who is trying to learn the truth about her mother, there are too many issues cluttering up this main theme. Alicia Keyes, who plays one of the sisters who takes in Lilly, should stick to singing, not acting. There are some very touching moments that brought me to tears, and I am glad I saw this movie, which is morally somewhat better than other offerings in the cinemas. However, I agree that the spiritual content is very disturbing, with worship of and faith in a statue of a God-like female presented as some sort of righteous faith. Not for sensitive Christians.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
Negative—I didn't like the worship of the statue because God deserves all the worship, glory, and praise. I am a parent myself and I feel that May displayed too much kissing and touching in front of Lily. There are some that should not be done in front of children and I feel that was one of them. I hate the fact that Lily was child abused on a regular basis. I feel this movie's purpose was to mislead God's people by saying it was alright to worship a carved image or even alright to commit suicide to go to a better place. If you take your own life, you will go to the fiery pits below also known as hell.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
Mrs. Martin, age 31
Negative—I watched the movie in its entirety, but I wish I hadn't. The language in the movie was extremely offensive, but since the “bad guy” in the film was doing MOST of the offending I guess it seemed okay to watch. However, the plot was excellent and the way all the women were portrayed as strong african-americans, was great. I don't agree that Mary should be worshipped or revered, since Jesus said He is the only way to the Father. Mary was not african-american, she was Jewish! Also, it gave me the creeps when I saw the women going into a trance-like state when they were worshipping an idol (Mary).

When one of the sisters committed suicide, it made me think of all the people, who like herself, feel the “weight of the world” on their shoulders never knowing that Jesus is the only one who can bring true and lasting freedom. I would not watch the movie again, nor could I recommend it to any one else!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Very Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Gabriela, age 29
Comments from young people
Positive—Yes, Mae does commit suicide. But you must remember this movie is taking place during segregated times (or however you refer to that.)
Overall, I LOVED this movie. Some humor… a little romance (like kissing scenes no more than 10 seconds long)
There is some profane language but by the end of the movie that's one thing you don't remember. I didn't remember it till I read it on here!

I recommend seeing it… if you are uncertain about it for kids go see it by yourself then decide what you think about it for your kids.

Oh! In the very beginning there is a fight between the mother and the father. You don't see much of it but then the baby shoots the mother on accident. And the dad abuses the main character a little… and one of the African American ladies gets attacked.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
Claire, age 14
Positive—I really enjoyed “The Secret Life of Bees.” I thought that this movie was a joy to sit through. This movie deals with some tough topics, like abuse and suicide. I would not bring young children to this movie.

The beekeeping sisters have their own religion, based around the virgin Mary. So there is nothing in the movie based on Jesus Christ.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 3½
Erin, age 13
Positive—I loved “The Secret Life of Bees.” I would reccommend it for eleven and up only because of the swearing and the child abuse. Also, they worship the virgin Mary but besides that and the above, great movie!!! Dakota Fanning did great!!!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
Dakota, age 11 (USA)
Positive—Me and my mom watched this movie a couple movie and we both liked it. Dakota Fanning did an outstanding job. However, I cannnot reccomend this movie for anyone under 11, due to the abusive father, ***SPOILER*** May comitting suicide, and the swearing. But for older kids and adults, it's great!!!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 5
Kathryn, age almost 12 (USA)