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By K.L John


Wednesday, December 17, 2008.


This is a very thought-provoking and moving tale of love 'in a hateful time.'  The time is after the signing of the Civil Rights Act which granted African-Americans the right to vote, but in the immediate aftermath made little difference to their lives.  As the Boatwright sisters’ drama plays out, the struggle to hold onto one's humanity in a society determined to deny it is depicted sometimes beautifully, sometimes painfully.


With a stellar cast of actors, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Dakota Fanning, Alicia Keys and homegrown Sophie Okenedo representing a multi-faceted exploration of womanhood, the Secret Life of Bees is also arguably about the lives of black people which white people don’t see. 


In this respect, the film is thematically reminiscent of Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life, or even Rebecca Wells’ book The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.  As in Secret Life, the main characters in these stories are white, but a crucial part of the character’s arc involves a realisation that black people are whole and complete human beings. 


Sadly, this is radical thinking.  In a (past?) world where black people are oppressed into roles of servitude and subservience, the revelation of a world unknown to the white people they work for, is almost revolutionary.  A place where heads may be held high, voices are loud, love is not tainted with paternalism, and raucous laughter is in abundance – where great fun is had and white folk aren’t invited. 


We see this in Secret Life when Rosaleen and Lily turn up on the Boatwright doorstep desperate for work.  Marginal to the wider life of the town, the Boatwrights live independently and contentedly, running a business and creating their own community which Lily and Rosaleen join tentatively, and on very different terms. 


The Secret Life of Bees offers a refreshingly frank look at race relations in 1960s America and probes us to look at them now; who would have thought Dakota Fanning's first screen kiss would be with a black dude? An excellent follow-up to Love & Basketball from an exciting director, this is not to be missed.  


The Secret Life of Bees is out now.


© 2008


K.L John is the our Francophone correspondent and can be reached at kljohn@thenewblackmagazine.com



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