This is a movie review that I did for my Interpersonal Communication Class.
The film Akeelah and the Bee is a captivating movie that sheds light on an array of different topics. The themes that this paper seeks to discuss are self-concept, portrayed self verses perceiving self, self identity and stereotypes/comparisons. What the movie does so well is that it gets the audience to think, it allows for discussion, it is relatable, and there is something for everyone.
From the very beginning of this movie we as the viewers are forced to see the world through the lens of an eleven year old girl from South Los Angeles California. Akeelah Anderson’s perspective of the world is skewed in a sense because she is still trying to find her place in it. The environment in which she lives does not allot her the opportunities to explore what else the world has to offer to her. As Akeelah begins her journey of self discovery, she invites us in, and takes us on the journey with her.
Self-Concept: Akeelah’s Battle of Perception
Akeelah does not believe that she is anything special. She lives a very routine lifestyle: go to school, do homework, spend time with her family, and go to bed, then the process repeats. What we know about her is that she is the youngest child in a single parent home, her father died when she was young, she lives in South Los Angeles, the school that she attends is rundown, and she can spell. Though she does not say much in school, her nonverbal communication speaks very clearly; by the way that she carries herself she does not seem challenged enough, she is smart but she chooses not to apply herself because she doesn’t believe that her efforts will get her very far. Akeelah dulls her own sparkle in order to blend in with the crowd around her. Seeing as how she is bullied by other kids at school she feels that if she remains under the radar she’ll be able to get by. She doesn’t see the potential in herself until later on in the movie. The character of Dr. Larabee plays a vital role in the development of Akeelah’s self concept. It is not until her English teacher, her principal, and he take notice of what she’s capable of accomplishing that she slowly but surely begins to believe in herself more.
When Dr. Larabee begins to coach her for the preliminary spelling bee, he has her read a quote by Marianne Williamson that hangs near his bookshelf which reads “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.” After Akeelah reads the quote aloud and dissects its deeper meaning, or at minimum the way that she perceives its message do we see her self- concept begin to change; Dr. Larabee asked her what she thought the quote meant to which she responded “It’s saying don’t be afraid…” he pushes her to explain further and she continues “…not to be afraid of me”
Fear was the underlying issue that caused Akeelah to stay and be comfortable in a state of mediocrity. When she confronted that fear head on, only then was she able to see the potential in herself, which in the end made all of the difference.
Social Comparison and Its Role– In chapter two of our book, Looking Out Looking In there is a section that discusses the topic of social comparison. In the movie, Akeelah is juggling a number of identities: being a student, being a friend, being a daughter, a scholar, a kid, and eventually a spelling bee champion. Her life is a balancing act of these identities. It is in the human make up to compare; that is inevitable, social comparison is just a fraction of this larger theme. Through “the evaluation of ourselves in terms of how we compare with other” (Adler, 2011) we begin to understand the world and our place in it. Social interaction and social comparison, in a way shape the way that we perceive ourselves, they hold weight sometimes more than they should.
In the movie, Akeelah was scrutinized for her talent and was an outcast in her own environment, later on Akeelah’s biggest competition aside from herself was Dylan, the Asian scholar and champion of three spelling bee competitions. She makes references to what Dylan is doing, how he is studying throughout the film and worries that she will never measure up to his accomplishments. She worries so much in fact that she convinces herself that being a part of this “new world” was too hard and that not even the title of being champion was worth it because the expectation whether fabricated or not was causing her undo anxiety.
It wasn’t until Dr. Larabee and her mother convinced her to forget all of Dylan’s strategies for winning, and take advantage of what she had already learned under the tutilige of Dr. Larabee that she began to understand what her mother meant when she said that she had “50,000 coaches”. Akeelah then saw herself as a winner, and in the end Dylan needed Akeelah to push him to be the best that he could be too; which caused them both to be better individuals and co-champions.