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A young girl from South Los Angeles tries to make it to the National Spelling Bee.

Eleven year old African-American Akeelah Anderson comes from a working class family living in South Los Angeles. Akeelah is a bright girl, especially when it comes to words, but finds life at poor Crenshaw Middle School boring and unchallenging, so she doesn't try. But her natural aptitude for words spurs the school administrators, led by Principal Welch, to convince her to try out for the process of the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Akeelah, already feeling isolated from many in her school because of being perceived as a "brainiac", feels that participating in such will make her feel even more isolated. But her joy in learning new words at least gets her started in the process. After easily winning the school's spelling bee, she meets and befriends Javier Mendez, a competitor at the Los Angeles district bee where most of the competitors come from primarily white middle class to wealthy families. There, she learns about the nature of spelling bee life in all its good and bad, the latter which includes the cutthroat world of competitor parents. An example is Javier's classmate and two time national runner-up Dylan Chiu, whose father will not settle for second best as Dylan enters the last year he is eligible for the competition. Akeelah learns she needs a coach, hers to be in the form of former spelling bee competitor and UCLA English Department Chair Dr. Joshua Larabee, who teaches Akeelah not only the rote memorization of typical spelling bee words, but how to use English in all its glorious facets. Akeelah progresses further and further into spelling bee life without telling her widowed mother Tanya, who sees the bees as impinging into time in her other school work. Other challenges that Akeelah faces are trying to balance working on her spelling against time with her friends, and handling the hopes and dreams of all of South Los Angeles on her shoulders. Ultimately there may be more important things in Akeelah's life than winning the national championship.


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