Secret Life of Bees

image for Secret Life of Bees

Short takes

Not recommended under 13, PG to 15 (Violence, themes)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Secret Life of Bees
  • a review of Secret Life of Bees completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 5 March 2009.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 13 Not recommended due to violence, and themes of suicide and child abuse.
Children 13-15 Parental guidance recommended due to violence, and themes of suicide and child abuse.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Secret Life of Bees
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Mature themes and violence
Length: 110 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Set in South Carolina in the racially charged era of the 1960s, the Secret Life of Bees is the story of a young girl, Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) who runs away from her abusive and very violent father T-Ray Owens (Paul Bettany) with her nanny, Rosaleen (Kate Hudson). Lily is also running from the tragic events in her past which caused her mother’s death. She seeks out the home of the wonderful Boatwright sisters who run a thriving bee farm where Lily hopes answers to some of the questions surrounding her mother’s life..
August Boatwright (Queen Latifah) welcomes Lily and Rosaleen to the farm. June Boatwright (Alicia Keys) is a little cooler towards Lily while the younger sister May (Sophie Okonedo), a simple soul, has never recovered from losing her twin sister April at a young age.

Along with learning how to keep bees, Lily learns much about life and finds solace in the wonderful companionship of sisterhood.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Racism; death of parent; suicide

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie including:

  • Lily’s father attacks her mother who picks up a gun and drops it. Lily (aged about 4) picks up the gun and accidentally shoots her mother.
  • T-Ray finds Lily in her secret place in the garden and starts yelling at her. He drags her back to the house where he makes her kneel, for over an hour, in some powder which leaves burn marks on her knees.
  • T-Ray attacks Lily on several occasions.
  • Rosaleen is approached by a group of angry white men when she’s walking in the town with Lily. Rosaleen stands her ground and answers the men back and they beat her up badly. She’s taken to hospital with a nasty head wound.
  • June has a verbal fight with her boyfriend Neil.
  • Lily goes to the cinema with Zack, a black boy, who gets beaten up for sitting with a white girl. The men take Zack away with them.
  • May drowns herself and is shown floating in water.


Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged under five, including the following:

  • Bees fly around Lily in her bed, frightening her.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

Children in this age group may also be disturbed by the above-mentioned scenes.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • Zack has to enter the cinema through a door which reads ‘Coloreds only’.
  • The sisters hold a lively prayer meeting with other local women. They all line up to touch the heart of the black Madonna. When it’s Lily’s turn, she is overcome by it all and faints.
  • May is easily upset and cries very easily. When she’s told about Zack being taken away, she can’t cope any longer and takes her own life. Seeing her body floating in the water is likely to be particularly upsetting.


Thirteen and overinfo

Children over the age of thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic physical harm or threats, molestation or sexual assault and / or threats from aliens or the occult.

Children in this age group may also be disturbed by some of the above mentioned scenes

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in this movie:

  • Coca cola

Sexual references

None of concern

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • June and Neil kiss passionately
  • Lily and Zack kiss

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • T-Ray drinks excessively and this results in violent outbursts.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • shit
  • arse
  • Goddammit
  • damn
  • bitch

In a nutshell

The Secret Life of Bees is an emotional drama set around racial tension and violence. The characters are well-developed and the cinematography displays the beauty of South Carolina.
The main messages from this movie are the negative consequences of racial prejudice and the need to find your roots and understand where you come from.
Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • love and compassion
  • tolerance
  • forgiveness
  • importance of community

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as the fact that perpetrators of violent behaviour often suffer their own punishments