Akeelah and the Bee is a 2006 American drama film written and directed by Doug Atchison. It tells the story of Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer), an 11-year-old girl who participates in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, her mother (Angela Bassett), her schoolmates, and her coach, Dr. Joshua Larabee (Laurence Fishburne). The cast also features Curtis Armstrong, J.R. Villarreal, Sean Michael Afable, Erica Hubbard, Lee Thompson Young, Julito McCullum, Sahara Garey, Eddie Steeples, and Tzi Ma.
The film was developed over a period of 10 years by Atchison, who came up with the initial concept after seeing the 1994 Scripps National Spelling Bee and noting that a majority of the competitors came from well-off socioeconomic backgrounds. After completing the script in 1999, Atchison won one of the Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting in 2000, which attracted producers Sid Ganis and Nancy Hult Ganis. After an initial inability to secure funding, the project got a second wind as a result of the success of the 2002 documentary film Spellbound. Lionsgate Films undertook the production in 2004 and in the following year it was filmed in South Los Angeles on a budget of over $6 million.
Atchison remarked that his theme for the film, deemed an inspirational film, was about overcoming obstacles despite difficult challenges along the way. He also said that he wanted to portray African Americans in a manner that was not stereotypical and tried to show how African American children incorporate some stereotypes. The film alludes to the importance of community as well as to problems black communities face. It also deals with esteem and stigma in school while criticizing the public school system. Cast members said that although the film was aimed at children, they considered it had important lessons for the parents as well.
Released in the United States on April 28, 2006, Akeelah and the Bee was positively received by critics and audiences. Reviewers praised its storyline and cast, lauding Palmer's performance, although a few critics panned the story as familiar and formulaic, and were critical of the portrayal of Asian-American characters. The film grossed $19 million, and received a number of awards and nominations, including the Black Reel Awards and the NAACP Image Awards. Film critics highly praised it for avoiding African-American stereotypes common in Hollywood films, while scholars were less favorable, even saying it reinforces some clichés.