There are two special populations portrayed in The Secret Life of Bees: African Americans and women. August, June, and May Boatwright along with Rosaleen are all African-American women. Other main characters such as Lily Owens and Zach Taylor fit into one special population but not both.
As this film is set in South Carolina during 1964 with a largely African-American cast, racism is certain to be a central theme. The Secret Life of Bees renders the idea of racism as illogical. Each of the Boatwright sisters, Rosaleen, Zach, and the minor African-American characters are depicted with dignity that was reserved only for Caucasians during that time. While Lily’s racism does not manifest itself in the same manner as the men who harass her housekeeper, Rosaleen, back home, she is still prejudiced at the film’s start, Lily just assumes that all African Americans are uneducated because that is how Rosaleen is; however, she quickly learns that is not the case. The Boatwright sisters prove to be just as unique and more intelligent, strong, and bold than anyone else she knows.
Another theme present in the film is the importance of female community. Throughout the movie, the audience continually sees women together—for healing, for strength, and to learn to forgive and love. Each of the women is fierce and strong in their own way. Despite the fact that May Boatwright committed suicide, we still saw courageousness within her. Community is essential to women; it allows us the freedom to be who we truly are and to feel loved and protected. It should also be noted that beehives cared for by August, Lily, and Zach serve as a parallel to the community established by August. Beehives are female-dominated structures in which a queen bee is mother to all the other bees much like the Virgin Mary is mother to all the women within August’s Daughters of Mary community. The bees have established procedures to protect them from and help them deal with outside influences. The same is seen within the Daughters of Mary community: when Zach is missing, they try to keep it from May for the sake of her mental health; they pray, celebrate, and eat together; they mourn as a family. The more Lily learns about the importance of the beehive, the more she learns about the significance of the community she walked into.
Racism is a prominent feature in this film. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had just been signed into law, it was apparent that African Americans were still seen as lesser individuals. There are several instances throughout the movie where angry individuals use the term “negro” along with other derogatory terms for African Americans. One scene is of Rosaleen being brutally beaten and dragged, and later arrested, because she refused to submit to a group of white men while on the way to register to vote. Another depicts Zach being beaten and taken away for sitting next to Lily in the movies; the police act as if they are unable to find the perpetrators. All the...