Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Movie Night at the Educational Center: "The Secret Life of Bees"

"The truth is, in order to heal we need to tell our stories and have them witnessed...The story itself becomes a vessel that holds us up, that sustains, that allows us to order our jumbled experiences into meaning."

Sue Monk Kidd
The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine

"The Secret Life of Bees: Reflections in a Cultural Mirror"
A Review by Tom Schulz

“A house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Abraham Lincoln

If The Secret Life of Bees is a story about making honey, then Huckleberry Finn is a guidebook to the Mississippi River. No, this is an epic tale of awakening and discovery. Of transformation and stultification. And love. Love that supports no single meaning as it shifts and morphs and takes root all of a once. This is a movie populated by diverse and complex characters, where the very character and unwritten laws of the United States of America plays a pivotal (and un-credited) role. Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood in 2008, The Secret Life of Bees is based on the 2002 historical novel and New York Times bestseller by Sue Monk Kidd. It is a thoughtful adaptation of the novel: clear in its visual vernacular of the year 1964. The film’s use of color captures both the fecund density and lyrical luminescence of the Southern light. Prince-Blythwood allows us to understand that if light is both wave and particle, it is equally capable of harboring shadow as well as illumination.

Lily Owens (portrayed by a precocious and convincing Dakota Fanning) is haunted. Her burden is summarized in an opening voiceover when she says, "I killed my mother when I was four years old, that's what I knew about myself. She was all I wanted and I took her away. Nothing else much mattered." Constantly terrorized and belittled by her father T-Ray (a relentlessly ferocious Paul Bettany), Lily finds solace and validation in the company of the housekeeper, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson). Under the auspices of getting Lilly fitted for a training bra (a rite of passage indicating Lilly’s evolving transformation into maturity, and a subterfuge that would, of course exclude T-Ray), Rosaleen and Lily trek to town. Rosaleen’s intention is to register to vote, and she is accosted by a pack of feral rednecks. Under duress, Rosaleen sheds her cultural cloak of invisibility and stands for her human rights. Her reward is a severe beating. She is hospitalized for her “safety”. Lily is concerned that Rosaleen will be killed. A legitimate concern, given her understanding of male violence, and knowing – somehow – that there was no Atticus Finch to protect her Tom Robinson. Acting with more teenage passion than plan, she and Rosaleen escape their assumed fate and begin their search for sanctuary. Lily has instinctive reason to believe the grail of safety and discovery abides in Tiburon, South Carolina.

In Tiburon, Lily and Rosaleen find the Boatwright sisters – August, May, and June (played respectfully by Queen Latifah, Sophie Okenedo, and Alicia Keys). Each sister possesses a special access to the world. August is the matriarch, and decides to take in the fugitives. Rosaleen soon recognizes that, “They got they’re own special place, where the outside don’t come in.”
As the name Boatwright indicates, the three sisters construct a storm-worthy vessel of protection and love that affords Lily and Rosaleen the necessary craft to navigate towards self-actualization.

If my math is correct, the author Sue Monk Kidd was fourteen in 1964. Old enough to recognize the injustices that languished on small town street corners of the day and practiced their ill begotten sorcery of the night. And though the strength of love can provide strength in community, even Lily was aware that at any moment one could bring “the Outside in Here.”
During Lyndon B. Johnson’s term as John F. Kennedy’s Vice- President, racism became an increasingly important political issue. Vice- President Johnson expressed his understanding that something had to be done when he said, "The Negro fought in the war, and….he’s not gonna keep taking the shit we’re dishing out. We’re in a race with time. If we don’t act, we’re gonna have blood in the streets." As President, Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a bill that changed the face of America. It opened all public accommodations to all Americans regardless of race, color, religion or national origin. A Texan, Johnson was criticized for using the issue of race and rights for political gain. But Johnson himself claimed to be an idealist who dreamed of making America a "Great Society". Earlier in his career he stated that, "This country won’t have to worry about isms [communism and fascism] when it gives its people a decent, clean place to live and a job.”

Even as The Secret Life of Bees presents a riveting and compelling narrative of a time passed, it forces the viewer to consider the current state of this Country’s malaise. It brings forth the critical question and asks, “What is reflected in the mirror of this particular History, and how shall we respond to what we see?”

"It is the peculiar nature of the world to go on spinning no matter
what sort of heartbreak is happening."
Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

Movie Night, 6:30 PM, May 20th at The Educational Center

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