Knight at the Movies Archives
Yet another irresistible Sisterhood picture, a well meaning GLBT indie
At the outset of The Secret Life of Bees we meet 14 year-old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) is haunted by the death of her mother
who, due to a tragic accident, she shot and accidentally killed when she was four.  Neither Lily nor her brutish, unloving father T. Ray
(Paul Bettany) can get past the tragedy and after T. Ray punishes Lily for an imagined transgression she decides to set out for a
small town she thinks might hold secrets to her mother’s past.  Lily brings along Rosaleen (Oscar winner
Jennifer Hudson), her black,
sassy housekeeper who is in the hospital under guard following a beating after she’s dared spit on a white man.  The time is 1964,
the location is the deep south (South Carolina to be more specific) and when the rag tag duo miraculously arrive at the home of the
three Boatwright sisters, the stage is set for a patently false but supremely satisfying Sisterhood Picture.

These Sisterhood pictures (
The Color Purple, Fried Green Tomatoes, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, The Joy Luck Club, among
them) celebrate the mysterious power and magic that comes when a group of fictional women to borrow a phrase from Maya
Angelou, “Gather Together In My Name” and draw power from each other to endure life’s Hardships.  Like many of the Sisterhood
Pictures (and all those set in the south)
Secret Life of Bees features dappled sunsets, dinners of fried chicken and honey biscuits, a
passel of idiosyncratic characters and locations (this one has bee hives and a house painted pink), and problems galore.  

The female characters in this mawkish, inflated drama are very familiar and seem only to exist in fiction and movie adaptations of
the best selling novels from which they spring (this one is based on an Oprah certified bestseller by Sue Monk Kidd and has been
adapted and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood).  The characters speak in metaphor and say things like “Some things don’t matter
that much – like the color of a house and such – but lifting somebody’s spirit, that’s important.”  Life lessons are a rule of thumb in
these movies and every scene of empowerment and tenderness is followed by one of violence and degradation.  Two steps forward,
three steps back.

The Boatwright sisters, named after the months –August (Queen Latifah), the wise matriarch, June (Alicia Keyes), the feisty and
emotionally protective beauty and May (Sophie Okonedo), the world weary, clinically depressed one – each offers a chance for
renewal to their new house guests and, naturally, for themselves in the bargain.  As Lily and Rosaleen become part of the household
routine, help out with the beekeeping and cooking, and fall under the spell of the Black Madonna sculpture prominently displayed in
the sisters’ living room, slowly the interior lives of the characters are revealed and become intertwined.  Naturally, any film set in
South Carolina in 1964 and featuring white and black characters is going to center at some point on race and
Secret Life lays it on
thick.  But no matter how many times one has seen the by now stereotypical scenes of inhumanity and violence done to the black
characters by the vicious whites they still have the power to shock and sadden.   

As noted, the film is weighted down with metaphor at one moment, spiced up with easy listening R&B flavored interludes the next.  It
fairly drips with over the top yearning and melodrama and all of the actors, to a woman, get a crying scene.  This is not to disparage
the directing of Prince-Blythewood who expertly creates an intoxicating, faraway world that’s very seductive, sultry and filled with the
melancholy of loss (and drowned in Mark Isham’s syrupy though just right background score).  She draws on Queen Latifah’s ability
to immediately connect with an audience (she’s perfectly cast and her telling of the Black Madonna story is one of the movie’s
emotional highlights).  Alicia Keyes is note perfect in her first leading role as the music teacher who plays the saddest Bach you’ve
ever heard and Okonedo as the sad, manic depressive May takes a tricky character and brings her great humanity.  Hudson starts
out sassy but then as Fanning’s character takes center stage retreats to the background – though she holds her own with the others
when given the chance.  And Fanning once again proves that she’s the best crier since little Margaret O’Brien begged the authorities
not to let her father fry in the chair.  (One quibble: with all that vocal power at their disposal, I wish the producer’s had commissioned
a song, a “Bee” theme perhaps, for Latifah, Hudson and Keyes to belt out over the end credits.)

Will audiences fall as hard for this deep fried hunk of hokum as I did?  I can’t really be objective.  I admit that when faced with an
expert example of a Sisterhood movie like
The Secret Life of Bees in my case resistance is futile.  I have every one of these movies
on DVD and watch them over and over and then when they show up on cable as they do with regularity, I watch them again. Perhaps
it’s because I respond to the outsider/loner/ emotionally damaged quality all the characters share – it’s only when joined together
that the women have true power and find their inner strength and this theme resonates deeply with gay men also trying to find a
place in the world.  Am I stereotyping gay men when I write that?  Absolutely.  That’s one of the inherent pleasures and satisfactions
with movies like
The Secret Life of Bees.  They allow audiences to stereotype like mad, guilt free, suffer life’s slings and arrows, sob
into their popcorn, and walk out of the theatre renewed, filled with deep compassion, aware of their precious humanity, mindful of
kids and strangers, determined to Do Better, ready to grab love and life by the collar, drown in their good intentions…


Queer writer-director Stewart Wade, last seen with the gay comedy
Coffee Date returns with another gay themed movie, Tru Loved.  
The film follows the exploits of recently transplanted San Franciscan Tru, short for Gertrude (Najarra Townsend), to a new
conservative high school.  Tru, an individualist who has two moms at home and two dads a phone call away, isn’t bothered by the
catcalls of the popular girls and she quickly discerns that her potential new boyfriend Lodell (Matthew Thompson) is gay.  But Lodell
who is a football jock secretly lusting after his best friend Manual (Joseph Julian Soria) is closeted and pleads with Tru to act as her
beard, even after Tru decides to start a straight-gay alliance club at school along with Walter (the winning Tye Olson).  Then Tru falls
hard for Trevor (Jake Abel) whom everyone assumes is gay but is straight.  

Further complications abound as this cross between “My So-Called Life” and an ABC After School Special wends its way to the finish
line.  Wade’s extremely low budget film is hampered by badly recorded dialogue and a script that tries to cram too many issues and
characters in (the closeted jock is also an African-American, etc.) but Townsend, Abel and Olson are convincing teens worth rooting
for and a lot of familiar faces in the cast –
Bruce Vilanch, Alec Mapa, Jane Lynch, Marcia Wallace, Nichelle Nichols, and Jasmine Guy
among them – liven up the movie.  Plays exclusively in Chicago at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema beginning Friday, October
Sticky and Sweet:
The Secret Life of Bees-Tru Loved
Exclusive Edition of 10-15-08 Knight at the Movies Column*
By Richard Knight, Jr.
*The first part of my WCT column this week focused on a roundup of the GLBT titles in this year's Chicago International Film Festival
but because my readership has expanded beyond the Chicago city limits (who knew?  thanks for the emails!) I've decided to offer
an exclusive review here at the site.  You can also read the roundup by clicking
HERE.  Hey! Why not read both!?