Coming on the heels of Spellbound and Bee Season, this small gem (2006) about a South Central LA girl with a gift for spelling restores luster to the family genre. Keke Palmer gives a breakout performance as the title character, whose prodigious talent is nearly deep-sixed by her lack of self-esteem and her harried, widowed mom (Angela Bassett), who dismisses spelling bees as an extracurricular activity they can't afford. Laurence Fishburne plays Akeelah's coach, an academic burnout with a tragic past, and though his theatricality can be distracting, he drives home the story's moral about ambition and self-reliance. Writer-director Doug Atchison exalts teamwork and community to the point of corn—Capra in the hood—but the movie's uplift is undeniable. With Curtis Armstrong, J.R. Villarreal, and Sean Michael Afable.
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