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"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same"—Akeelah (quoting Marianne Williamson)
A 2006 film staring Keke Palmer, Laurence Fishburne and Angela Bassett, and it just might be the only Spelling Bee drama out there.
Akeelah (Keke Palmer) is a young black girl from South Los Angeles, trying to cope with her father's death and her stifling environment. She's quite intelligent, but performs poorly in school due to the work being boring and unchallenging. She's entered into her school spelling bee in order to avoid detention for missing school, and she easily wipes the floor with the competition, almost bored out of her mind by the ease and simplicity of the words. Dr. Larabee (Fishburne), an English professor, sees her potential and begins to coach her for the more advanced Regional Spelling Bee. Hesitant at first, Akeelah shrugs off his help, fearing that performing well will isolate her and label her as a "brainiac", but her love of words can't be denied, and so she agrees to compete. After barely scraping by the district bee (advancing to the next round only because her aunt sees a parent in the audience mouthing the answer to her son), Larabee begins intense practice, having her not only memorize words at a blinding pace, but also having her become familiar with etymology and the ways that words are constructed.
Akeelah meets Javier Mendez, a competitor at the regional bee, and befriends him. She learns that the Spelling Bee is more than just spelling words; it's competitive parents, cutthroat rivalries, and massive pressure. Akeelah learns about Dylan Chiu, two-time runner up at the National Bee, whose father won't settle for anything less than first. Akeelah's mother Tanya (Bassett) finds out about the bee and forbids her from continuing with it; she doesn't want Akeelah to waste her time with this when she should be completing school work. Her best friend Georgia begins to feel left out as Akeelah spends more of her time studying for the bee and hanging out with Javier than her, and their relationship grows strained. As the Regional Bee looms, Akeelah forges her mother's signature and competes at the bee; her mother finds out and heads to bee to stop her. As Akeelah argues with her mother outside, Javier stalls the judges long enough to keep her from getting disqualified. Finally, Tanya agrees to let her compete, as long as she doesn't slack off in school. Akeelah ends up placing, along with Javier, and is headed to the National Bee.
News of Akeelah's accomplishments spread throughout town and give hope to the poor folk of South Los Angeles. The entire city helps her study her monumental stack of words. Akeelah reconciles with Georgia and invites her to come to Washington, D.C., with her for the competition; Georgia had always wanted to be a flight attendant, but after being on the plane, she announces that she'd rather be the pilot. Akeelah stays in the competition as kids around her begin to fail. By the end, only she and Dylan are left. During a break in the competition, she witnesses Dylan's father yelling at him, telling him that he can't possibly lose to a poor black girl and that this is his last year he has in this competition. Akeelah decides to throw the competition to help Dylan make his father proud, but when she does so by misspelling a word she and Dylan had both encountered at an earlier time, Dylan purposely misspells the word as well. He tells her that he sees what she's trying to do, and winning won't mean anything if he doesn't do it by himself. The competition continues, and as the words get progressively tougher, neither player is showing signs of tiring. Finally, the judges announce that there are 20 words left; if both contestants can spell every word, there will be a tie for the first time in the history of the bee. The words wind down, and Dylan correctly spells his last word, "logorrhea", making him the champion. Akeelah gets the word "pulchritude" and spells it correctly, making her the co-champion of the National Spelling Bee.
- Asian and Nerdy: Dylan's father demonstrates why this trope exists. Truth in Television that Confucian culture places a large emphasis on education and thus some Asian parents can be very, very obsessed with academic competition.
- Brilliant but Lazy: Akeelah,at first.
- Chekhov's Gun: In this case, a Chekhov's Word. Earlier in the movie, Dylan asks Akeelah to spell "Xanthosis" to see how good she is, and she starts it off with a "Z". Dylan mocks her. Later, at the National Bee, the word that she purposely spells wrong happens to be "xanthosis"; again, she starts it with a "Z". Dylan instantly knew that she spelled it wrong on purpose because he knew for a fact that she wouldn't make that mistake twice.
- Also happens with the word "pulchritude". It's the word Dr. Larabee stumps Akeelah with after her win at the school spelling bee, and it ends up being her winning word at the National Bee.
- Disappeared Dad: Akeelah has one.
- Education Mama: Subverted. Akeelah's mother, to the point that she thinks the spelling bee is completely frivolous in regards to her daughter going to school, not realizing that studying and bees go hand in hand.
- Graceful Loser: Javier in spades. When he is eliminated from the competition, he just grins cheekily and begins to theatrically bow to his public in an epic Large Ham fashion, all in good humor
- Holding the Floor: When Akeelah leaves the spelling bee temporarily, Javier stalls spelling his word for an absurdly long time to give her time to get back.
- Oh Crap: One boy realizes that he misspelled a word before finishing it.
- Parental Substitute: Larabee for Akeelah. Although he is tough, he works Akeelah so that she can do her best and genuinely cares about her.
- Replacement Goldfish: Akeelah for Larabee's daughter. He accidentally calls Akeelah by his daughter's name once.
- Also, as mentioned above, Larabee for Akeelah's father.
- The Rival: Dylan Chiu is a Jerkass.
- Until his Heel Face Turn, that is...
- Serious Business: Spelling bees, of course, actually to the point where it's referred to this trope by name. This is further discussed on the page.
- Spelling Bee: Naturally.
- Spelling Song: "Respect" by Aretha Franklin makes an appearance after Akeela wins the Statewide Spelling Bee.
- Take a Third Option: Akeelah and Dylan are each hesitant to win, as it would mean the other would lose. So instead, they both win.
- Training From Hell
- Training Montage
- Tying Means Friendship
- Wax On, Wax Off: Akeelah practices jumping rope to keep time and maintain focus.