The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd 2002/Film 2008)
I can tell you this much: the world is a great big log thrown on the fires of love. (August)
"Sue Monk Kidd's ravishing debut novel has stolen the hearts of reviewers and readers alike with its strong, assured voice. Set in South Carolina in 1964, "The Secret Life of Bees" tells the story of Lily Owens, whose life has been shaped around the blurred memory of the afternoon her mother was killed. When Lily's fierce-hearted "stand-in mother," Rosaleen, insults three of the town's fiercest racists, Lily decides they should both escape to Tiburon, South Carolina--a town that holds the secret to her mother's past. There they are taken in by an eccentric trio of black beekeeping sisters who introduce Lily to a mesmerizing world of bees, honey, and the Black Madonna who presides over their household. This is a remarkable story about divine female power and the transforming power of love--a story that women will share and pass on to their daughters for years to come." (google books)
A Bad Film Review:
Over the years, we've all seen too many anachronistic ''magic Negroes'' in movies like "Forrest Gump" and "The Green Mile". The saintly African-American matriarchy of "The Secret Life of Bees" may appear benign by comparison. Yet the film, set in the civil rights era, has a dated, musty piety that too often evokes the liberal message mongering of that time. The Secret Life of Bees is a lesson — or, rather, a whole series of them — we no longer need to learn. Of course, it's also a divine-sisterhood-defeats-all chick flick, and on that score there's no denying that its clichés are rousingly up to date. C (Owen Gleiberman is a film critic for EW)
While still in tears over the heartwarming film, "The Secret Lives of Bees," I slipped over to my laptop to check a few reviews. I was most surprised when I read a negative review of the film. Owen Gleiberman's main bone of contention seems to be what he calls the portrayal of another magical negro; he awards the film a C grade. From what I understand, the critic's primary issue is that he cannot bear another movie that portrays helpless white people being saved by another magical black person. I think the person who wrote this review continues to have an issue with color, even though he says that we have learned this lesson enough; he argues that we don't need to learn about racial issues anymore.
I don't agree that the focus of the film was race. As a matter of fact, I didn't see the film in that light at all. I saw it as a women helping women story... a healing and empowering community support story. I appreciated the honest portrayal of the race issue and how relationships that did develop over the false color line were explained beautifully, for example when Queen Latifah said, "there is no perfect love" to explain why she loved Lilly's prejudiced mother. I honor this line as a strong and true statement. How many of us love others and find that we love through the flaws? We have family members and friends who fall short of perfect- as we do ourselves. Sometimes the most valued love is the most troubled love.
I understood that the story is about forgiveness and finding strength under difficult conditions. Owen writes that "The Secret Life of Bees" is a lesson...rather a whole series of lessons, we no longer need to learn." What is he talking about? We already know how to accept each other and love through our imperfections? We already understand how to get over our overly self-concerned limitation and reach out a helping hand to others? Goodness! Where is he living?
Regardless of how far we have come as a society, we still circle our covered-wagons and shoot at the unknown enemy when we feel threatened. If this statement were not true, we never would have been led into a war with Iraq. Does Gleiberman sincerely think we don't need the lesson that we must love and care for each other regardless of race or nationality ? -that we must accept each other as members of a common human family?
About the black madona
As described in the book:
She was black as could be, twisted like driftwood from being out in the weather, her face a map of all the storms and journeys she'd been through. Her right arm was raised as if she was pointing the way, except her fingers were closed in a fist. It gave her a serious look, like she could straighten you out if necessary.
There are Black Madonnas found in Puerto Rico, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobaggo as well as other Caribbean islands. For a contemporary example, click on this recent painting by Puerto Rican artist, Elaine Soto, which is called Black Madonna of Hormigueros Puerto Rico with Milagros.
Above painting by Robert Lentz "The Mother of the Streets"
Exhibited at the Marian Library; July 6-August 27, 1993 University of Dayton
Robert Lentz sees in "the spirit and beauty of the icon the expression of a common ground between spirituality, justice and a love of creation." In addition, Mr. Lentz believes that the "painter must be in touch with the divine mystery for the painting to have soul."
I see the film, "The Secret Lives of Bees" as a much needed reminder to accept each other and look for love in difficult situations. Further, Queen Latifah's portrayal of August is a most inspirational example of this admirable human aspiration.
Thank you Carol from The Writer's Porch for mentioning this book and film in early February; you brought my attention back to a must read/see.