Akeelah and the Bee (2006): Atchison’s Earnest, Inspirational Tale of African-American Girl

Written and directed by Doug Atchison, Akeelah and the Bee centers on a young girl of 11, Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer), who participates in the Scripts National Spelling Bee, benefiting from the support of her mother (Angela Bassett, always reliable), her schoolmates, and especially her coach, Dr. Joshua Larabee (Laurence Fishburne, who also produced).

Atchison came up with the concept after seeing the 1994 Scripps National Spelling Bee, noting that a majority of the competitors came from rich and educated backgrounds; not many were of ethnic minority origins.

Atchison won a Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting in 2000, which attracted some producers, but no funding was secured.  The project got a second round after the unanticipated success of the 2002 documentary Spellbound.

It was shot in South L.A. on a budget of $6 million.

Earnest and inspirational by design, the film aimed to appeal to children and their parents, with the manifest goal of showing how youth could overcoming obstacles despite difficult challenges.

The director wanted to portray African Americans in a non-stereotypical way, emphasizing the importance of family and community. It also deals with esteem and stigma in school while criticizing the public school system.

Cast members said that although the film was aimed at children, they considered it had important lessons for the parents as well.

Released on April 28, 2006, Akeelah and the Bee received mostly positive reviews and was successful at the box-office, grossing about $19 million.