Just got back from the opening night film of the 15th Philadelphia Film Festival, Akeelah and the Bee. The writer/director Doug Atchison was there with the producer/actor Laurence Fishburne, for whom this was clearly a labor of love. As he said afterward, he came on as one of the producers and starred knowing that would help the script he loved so much get made. And it's a decent script. Occasionally clichéd, yes, but that, in part, is deliberate. The director explained that he patterned this after classic sports films (and to be sure, there are as many training montages in this as Rocky IV), but what he felt is revolutionary is the choice of protagonists. And you know what? He's absolutely right.
I would consider this film's greatest achievement to be a social one. Never before, to my knowledge, or to anyone else in the theater, has a major motion picture (at this point, I think we can call Lionsgate "major") had a little black girl as the lead. And I mean in every scene but one. If you can think of one, even an indie, please leave it in the comments. And for that, and the positive portrayal of black youth — especially little girls — I applaud the filmmakers (as Fishburne said, "This one's for the girls."). Now, that doesn't negate the fact that the little girl's performance is uneven. And in an odd way. The very emotional scenes, the Oscar clips, if you will, are pretty well done. It's the everyday stuff that just isn't there. It's kind of like when I saw Bono on an off-night and he could hit the impossibly high notes just fine but his mid-range was practically gone.