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The movie adaptation of The Secret Life of Bees by director Gina Prince-Bythewood is a multi-level story about belonging and acceptance, told in the South just when the 1964 Civil Rights Bill was passed into law. Racism is still an ugly truth, but amid the unfounded hatred lies people with heart and forgiveness.

At the core of the film, based on the best-selling novel by Sue Monk Kidd and in theatres October 17, is 14-year-old Lily Owens (played by wunderkind Dakota Fanning) who is haunted by the day she accidentally shot her mother (Hilarie Burton) at age 4. Her relationship with her father T Ray (Paul Bettany) is abusive and cold. When her caregiver, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), gets beaten up for going to register to vote, Lily tricks her into running away.

Her goal is to find out about her mother and she ends up in Tiburon, South Carolina, a name she sees written on one of the few possessions she has of her mom’s. The pair is taken in by the successful black Boatwright sisters (Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okonedo), who run a honey business.

Fanning, as usual, is remarkable at portraying the complex emotions of this young teenager. “I am from the South and grew up there and my grandmother grew up in this time period, and was able to tell me stories,” says Fanning, during a small roundtable interview in Toronto.

“Gina also had me watch a documentary called 4 Little Girls,” she adds, referring to Spike Lee’s film about the children killed in the 1964 Birmingham, Alabama church bombing. “It really touched me. I was crying. It was really sad. I think that really put my mind in that whole time period and what my character was going through and what the other characters were going through. It really set the mood.”

The Secret Life of Bees does the same. For as much as it’s about a young girl’s search for a family, the incidents of racial hatred that dot the story bring a few tears to the eyes. “I think that is a good thing,” says Fanning. “It’s quite unbelievable when you hear that people are emotionally moved by a film that you were a part of.

“This movie is a great mixture of the dramatic story line but there’s a lot of light in the film too. People were laugh in the screening too during some parts and that’s also great to hear, as well as the sniffles and the blowing of the noses. You want to have people go through the rollercoaster of emotions.”

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