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Lions Gate puts ‘Bee’ in its bonnet

Atchison to helm Fishburne starrer

Lions Gate Films has teamed with Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner’s 2929 Entertainment to co-finance and distribute “Akeelah and the Bee.”

Pic, to star Laurence Fishburne and Keke Palmer, concerns an 11-year-old from South Los Angeles whose journey to compete in the National Spelling Bee unites her community.

Doug Atchison will direct from his own script, which won the Nicholl Fellowship in 2000.

Atchison first developed the idea after seeing ESPN’s inaugural broadcast of the Scripps Howard Spelling Bee and observing that few inner-city children participated in the competition.

Sid Ganis’ Out of the Blue Entertainment and Michael Romersa’s Reactor Films will produce with Nancy Hult Ganis and Danny Llewelyn.

Wagner, Cuban and 2929’s Marc Butan will exec produce with Helen Sugland of Landmark Artists Management.

Pic is being fast-tracked for a production start in late January in Los Angeles, with some second-unit work to lense in Washington, D.C.

Lions Gate prexy of production Mike Paseornek and senior VP of production Donna Sloan oversee the project. VP Jonathan Ruiz will act as the project’s production exec.

“Akeelah comes from an environment where many kids feel like the Spelling Bee is for someone else,” Atchison said. “In order to compete, Akeelah must first overcome her feelings of inadequacy. It’s the quintessential underdog story.”

“Bee” marks the second collaboration between Lions Gate and 2929 Entertainment after the Robert De Niro thriller “Godsend,” which 2929 produced and Lions Gate released.

Butan was a Lions Gate exec before becoming head of 2929 Prods.