The Secret Life of Bees

Drama could earn supporting actress honors

Fox Searchlight

Release date: Oct. 17

Stories that gnaw at the underbelly and injustice of race relations have a built-in soft spot among Academy voters.

Call it the Stanley Kramer effect. Kramer was responsible for such racially charged dramas as “The Defiant Ones” and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” which both earned Oscar noms for picture and director. It’s a genre that has resonated with the Academy over the years, especially when set in the hothouse South, as were best pic contenders “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “In the Heat of the Night,” “Mississippi Burning” and “Driving Miss Daisy.”

Set in rural South Carolina circa 1964, “The Secret Life of Bees” might be viewed more as parable than straight drama, with its two main characters, abused white teen Lily and her black housekeeper Rosaleen, embarking on a sort of Huck and Jim odyssey in search of greener pastures.

Dakota Fanning, 14, appears to be maturing into an actress capable of playing beyond her years and, as such, has garnered some of the film’s best notices.

Three of Fanning’s co-stars — Sophie Okonedo, Queen Latifah and Jennifer Hudson (as Rosaleen) — have been nominated previously, with Hudson winning for her supporting role in “Dreamgirls.”

But Okonedo and Latifah may be the ones to watch here when it comes to supporting nominations. While playing very different characters, each offer a highly dramatic moment that could make an impression with voters.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood mostly has been working in TV since her accomplished “Love & Basketball” opened in 2000, and mixed reviews for “Bees” might not bring her an Oscar nom, but the passion of its adherents makes it a strong addition to her resume.

Dutch cinematographer Rogier Stoffers and production designer Warren Alan Young may be singled out for their re-creation of the tones and textures of the Southern U.S. in the 1960s.

And for an indie without huge star power, box office has been solid.

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