Saturday, February 28, 2009

Heart to Heart

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)

A Summary:

"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.


  1. I almost rented this movie last night, but wasn't sure I was strong enough to watch it alone...I do feel, as you said, this circling the wagons mentality is not a thing of the past that we have "overcome"...

  2. I haven't seen the movie yet, but I enjoyed the book. I don't understand Mr. Gleiberman's review either. And beyond all the issues, what about storytelling? Does he think that storytelling serves no purpose if it is 'outdated'? It's a beautiful story! And you are correct, its lessons are still relevant.

  3. Sounds interesting; have heard of it but looks like it may work for me...thanks precious :)

  4. It sounds like a wonderful story,Cynthia.

    I think I am sniffing a racist, cynic in the form of a movie critic.Hmmm......

    Great post.xx♥♥

  5. cynthia, this is a beautiful and meaningful post...thank you for sharing this information about the black madonna as well as the lovely art! I think the critic has a bit of a problem frankly and, tho I haven't seen the movie nor read the book, I intend to and have only heard wonderful things about both....

    magical negro?? what kind of weirdness is that? there's something very hateful and demeaning in that term! sigh...well, at least the overwhelming consensus I have heard and read has been very positive.


  6. I'm glad that the *bee* book is good (even though I didn't know they had made a film of it). My m-i-l gave me this book about six years ago and I've just let it lay there, never reading it for some reason. I'm going to put in on my pile for the summer

    I'll try and get to see the film as wel - but after I've read the book

  7. I loved the book which I read a couple of years ago and have now watched the film. Normally, I enjoy books more than the film made of....
    but this was good. I understand that some people could work out other meanings (magical negroes) but, I think he's wrong, the underlying story is more of women supporting women and their relationships between each other. Dakota Fanning and Queen Lafyta were both wonderful, in my humble opinion............

  8. I loved the book and am happy to hear (your) good review of the film. The critic's review does seem.....odd, doesn't it?

  9. Thanks so much for this wonderful posting, Cynthia! I saw "The Secret Lives of Bees" last week and was mesmerized by the beauty of the relationships between the women. The only time when race became relevant was when the women were exposed to the racial hatred of others.

    I really don't want to be sexist here, but the critic Owen just didn't get it - the theme is so much about vulnerable women empowering themselves and those around them.

  10. Teri,(cats of furrydance) I so understand what you mean. When I think a movie may be too strong for me, I have to work up my courage to see it. The Bee movie was playing yesterday while I did the dishes and prepared dinner. I watched it later with my daughter with great enjoyment because I knew the scenes wouldn't be too strong to endure! I'm such a baby! <3

    Susan, good point! What about storytelling? How can Owen even argue that a story has been told before...what should we do? Stop talking about repeated events? <3

    Braja, yes, and you are the precious one...! Thanks for the visit and I hold high hopes for your new book!<3

    Natalie, I hope you can watch the brings female bonding into focus...something you are so good at--creating community. <3

    Linda, yes, that magical bit sounded racist to me as well. If you click on the link, you can read the comments in context. I'm sure he's so glad to be evolved beyond the need for reminders...maybe his perfection blinds him to heartfelt expression? So nice to have you here! Thank you for the kind words of support! <3

    French Fancy, so you too? I kept thinking about reading the book...I pick it up several times at Borders but didn't continue reading. I don't know what held me back! I have a rule with myself that I have to read everything I buy...when I buy it. Let me explain...I cannot have books pile up in this little up any further, I have to add. Right now,the table I'm writing on is piled up with books...I'm swamped. Still, I feel better that I have read and re-read mine...the kids have to put some of this stuff away. I love to get gift cards from Borders so I can buy books that I know I must books :-( that I'm not in the mood for can weigh on me...I sound bad, I know. Lately, my list of must reads is growing because of blog reviews. I bet yours are too. Thank you for your special award. <3

    Yes Jude, we agree about the emphasis and importance of the book/movie. Some critics don't like films about seems too sappy to them. I think Owen had this problem too. <3

    Charmaine (high desert diva), yes, go watch the movie sometime and let me know if it disappoints or pleases you. <3

    Dianne, I'm afraid that I agree with you, their was some kind of sexism in his commentary. If you read the full review (magical link) you saw that he calls it a chick flick. He argues so convincingly, it bothers me that people will be persuaded to overlook the film.

    So glad you are back to blogging. But I hope you were able to spend enough time with your daughter/son-in-law and the little one. <3

  11. Cynthia, I read the book two years ago and saw the movie a few weeks ago. The movie cannot compare to the book which always is the case.
    This movie's message can not be relayed enough!
    If you were raised in the Deep South, you know this movie is about race, as well as strong women. Its message is about crossing a line that should NEVER have been drawn in first place!

  12. Thank you, Carol, for your strong words spoken with authority. You understand the theme far better than the movie critic, I'm sure. I found the post and made a link. (Did you see?)

    So many people prefer the book version...I try not to see them in the same reference frame...otherwise, it bothers me when plot, character or story meaning changes. I understand your preference, though.

    I look forward to your interview with Kathryn Stockett, author of "The Help." Sounds as if you have read another must-read book. <3

  13. Thank you Cynthia for the review, I have also put off reading this book even though I've owned it for years now. It's been recommended to me many times, but now you've given me the desire to move it to the top of my list! most of the time I don't bother to read the reviews, they just leave me confused.
    take good care,
    xxx lori

  14. Wonderful post! So much good information and your critique of the movie and book are excellent. I also don't see the characters as "magic Negros" and I have a problem with that phrase of Gleiberman's as well. It is as you said an example of humanity transcending race which is what life should be about.

  15. Hi Friend.. Interesting post.. Keep up the good work.. Do visit my blog and post your comments.. Take care mate.. Cheers!!!

  16. Hi MuseSwings,Cynthia, so thank you for your comments and for adding yourself as a follower. I like that paraphrase "humanity transcending race" -beautiful! <3

    Shrim of Goldensparks, thank you for the visit...and I enjoyed my visit to your world events blog.

  17. Lori Ann, yes, reviews can be a puzzle but I like to see how others react to a movie. I don't let myself be influenced by the comments; but it's facinating how different people respond to the same material. Thank you for commenting! Are you still 5 now that your daughter and her little ones have moved out? xx <3

  18. This is crazy! I read the book two weekends! I stole the beat up and very loved copy from my Mom. I had no idea that it was a film too. I haven't enjoyed a book as much a I did this one in a long time.

  19. Marie Isabelle, if you loved the book so much, you may have a strong preference! The movie is pretty recent...2008...but I thought is was both powerful and charming. xx <3

  20. Cynthia - for all you breaking the silence of libraries across the world with your laughter, I have an award for you, once more, on my blog today - Monday -

    I think this is a very worthy book whose film you have reviewed today - I shall watch out for it - Many thanks! Fhi x

  21. I'm adding the book and film to my list! Thanks for the great review, Cynthia.

  22. I read this book a few years back and decided not to see the movie. I finished the book on a business trip and I sniffed and sobbed on the plane. I loved this book. Interesting stuff- thank you for fleshing this out a bit.

  23. haha!funny, yes, i am much more than 5 with all the kids, their friends, boyfriends,girlfriends and my heartbreakingly lovely husband. I woulden't mind a puppy like your's also... :)

  24. The theme in this sounds so deep. I haven't seen it, but have heard only good things about it. I heard that the women have incredible relationships and that it is ispiring to most who see the film. Thanks for this interesting post.

  25. I have not read this book Cynthia but shall search it out and then look forward to the film. I trust your review and can't wait to see it - sounds wonderful, xv.

  26. Fhina (WONI), Thank you for the award and the visit. I will pick it up when a have a little more time to blog. I hope your health returns soon.xx <3

    Willow, I'm glad that the review inspired you to read and view the book. Maybe you could write your own? I'd enjoy reading about the Bee story from your perspective. <3

    JBA, you know how it is...the book and the film are really completely different; (unless it's a BBC mini-series attempt at exact interpretation) most of the time the time contraints change the story. I think this one is successful but many feel that if you watch the film it will ruin the memory of the book. I always like to get as much material as possible. Lots of perspectives. Thanks for reading. <3

    Lori Ann, "If only I could have a puppy..."- sure you can...but remember that they don't travel might have to curtail your day trips! (maybe not get a pup!!)
    Lisa thanks for reading. <3

    Ms Lucy thanks for coming back to Oasis. I do enjoy getting to know you. <3

    Vicki, I appreciate the vote of confidence...I trust your asthetic judgement also...excellent taste on your beautiful blog. <3

  27. Thinking of you Cynthia and sending you clarity of thoughts and intent in the venture for your mother


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