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AKEELAH AND THE BEE

About The Production
One could say that the origins for this inspirational drama began as far back as 1994 when writer/director Doug Atchison found himself captivated by "The National Spelling Bee” on ESPN. While watching a basketball game, he channel-surfed during a commercial break and came upon the spelling bee airing live on the sports network. He became rapt and even caught himself trying to spell the words and rooting for the kids.

Atchison noticed that most of the contestants seemed to come from privileged backgrounds whose families had the resources to allow their kids to pursue this unusual activity. Says Atchison, "It struck me that there was a story to tell about a child who had the natural ability for this kind of activity but who didn't have access to the resources or coaching to pursue it as these other kids had.” It was then that he decided to write a screenplay.

Time passed and Atchison worked on other projects. But he could never quite shake the story of a kid, named Akeelah, from the back of his head. Every year he would watch the spelling bee and get the impulse to develop her story further. "I would watch and think about her. I would start telling my friends and my family the story about this little girl and the spelling bee. But I never wrote it.” In fact, he kept thinking of reasons why he shouldn't, even questioning whether he was the right person to do it.

When someone pointed out to him that he was afraid to write it, Atchison had a revelation. He realized that this fear was exactly the same as that of his protagonist. "Akeelah's afraid to participate in the spelling bee because she doesn't think it's for her. Then as I found my way into the story, rather than looking at her as somebody who was other than me, I found myself. I was then able to write the story in about a month.” 

In 2000, Atchison submitted his script, entitled "Akeelah and the Bee,” to The Nicholl Fellowship, a writing competition sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Of the forty five hundred scripts submitted, his was one of the five winners. Sitting in the audience for the award presentations was producer Sid Ganis. "I remember thinking, ‘wow, that's a great story,'” says Ganis, "An eleven-year-old, African-American kid striving to get to a gigantic contest. When I read the script, I discovered it was poignant and had a solid amount of "movie anxiety.” It was the kind of story -- about hope and doing great things against all the odds -- which I, as a producer, wanted to tell for a long time. "

Sid's wife, producer Nancy Hult Ganis, who has had a lifelong interest and passion for the issues surrounding public education, recognized the opportunity to address these issues in a way that could touch people. When her husband gave her Atchison's script to read, she said "We have to make this film!” Getting it to the screen became their personal mission. However they found many potential investors to be unaware of spelling bees. Fortunately, a critically acclaimed documentary called "Spellbound” garnered a lot of attention. "'Spellbound' helped us in some way,” says Hult Ganis. "It helped people understand that spelling bees could be very exciting but really, it's much more than that. It's about confronting our fears and overcoming obstacles on the way to achieving our goals.” Lionsgate agreed and came on board as did Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner's 2929 Entertainment and Starbucks Entertainment.

For Lionsgate's President of Production Michael Paseornek, there was only one person who could make this movie and that was writer Atchison. "He lived with the story for years before he wrote the script. It was in his heart and in his mind. Doug could have sold the script a hundred times, but we were all intent for him to direct it.”

It was very important to Atchison that Akeelah and Dr. Larabee be portrayed as he wrote them. "Akeelah,” says

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