The Secret Life of Bees

The Secret Life of Bees is a film adaptation of the award winning novel by the same name by Sue Monk Kidd. The film is directed by Gina Prince-Blythewood. The film is set in South Carolina in 1964, where the main character Lily Owens (played by Dakota Fanning) flees her abusive father with her caregiver Rosaleen (played by Jennifer Hudson). They find sanctuary at the house of the Boatwright sisters. There Lily learns the true horrors of racism, segregation, and comes to terms with the dark secret of her past. Overall, the film connects well with the short story, “Like a Winding Sheet” by Ann Petry.


In one of the opening scenes of the film, Lily and Rosaleen go into town to buy Lily a training bra for her 14th birthday. Along the way, they come along three racist white men who openly mock Rosaleen, who is an African American. She retaliates by pouring her drink on one of the men’s shoes, and they beat her up and is later arrested. This parallels the treatment of Johnson in Ann Petry’s “Like a Winding Sheet.” The growing conflict arises due to several encounters with these men prior to the start of the movie (the book alludes to this fact; however, the movie itself does not.) Each time they exchange encounters, the tension between the men and Rosaleen intensifies until it reaches its boiling point. Even though the tension never escalated to the point where Rosaleen reacted in the way Johnson did to Mae, the racial frustration building is ever so much present.

Additionally, the film climaxes around the suicide of May, who struggles to see the differences between the concerns of the world against her own. Her fragile mental state causes her to become extremely remorseful to the slightest bit of grief. When she discovers that her neighbor’s son has been kidnapped due to him sitting with Lily in the colored section of a movie theater, she decides to spend some time at her coping place for a while. She is found having drowned herself in the shallow part of the river near her house. Her actions were caused by the racism around her, and took its toll on her psyche. Her reaction almost parallels Johnson in the end of the story.

The Secret Life of Bees. Dir. Gina Prince-Blythewood. Perf. Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2008. Film.

Petry, Ann. “Like a Winding Sheet.” N.p.: n.p., n.d. 1496-504. Web.


One comment

  1. I remember this movie and it is one of the ones I forgot I wanted to see but never did. I will have to rent this soon!
    I enjoyed reading your comparison with the movie and The Winding Sheet. The mental side of the racial abuse sometimes is not discussed in a lot of issues today. We see Johnson and his strength of trying to hold all the pain of abuse in but causing him to explode on to his wife with physical abuse and May holding in all the thoughts of abuse and pain inside it can be overwhelming enough to go crazy. I like the comment when you said “Her fragile mental state causes her to become extremely remorseful to the slightest bit of grief.” There are so many people in the world that need to let it out, the thoughts, pain and anger and they do not know how to express it that they hurt others or themselves.


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