First shot opens with a woman’s legs in a dress wandering around a room and going back and forth in a closet. A marble rolls on the ground and a little girl is playing with a clear glass shooter marble and a mirror. The mother (Deborah Owens played by Hilarie Burton) is taking clothes from the closet and putting them into a suitcase. The little girl is in the closet and the mother sees her and while her eyes express shock, she gives a small smile. Suddenly a man barges in, the husband/father (T. Ray Owens played by Paul Bettany), and starts to rage at the mother, saying that she isn’t going to leave him. He throws the suitcase on the ground and grabs her roughly. The woman reaches for a gun in the closet and points it at the man, telling him that she just wants to go. The man wrestles the gun out of her hand and it falls on the ground. The child’s hand goes to pick up the gun and as the father is grabbing the woman, her mother reaches out for the gun, saying “Lily” (Dakota Fanning). The gun goes off and the scene fades to an older Lily lying in bed, her eyes open.
“I killed my mother when I was four years old, that’s when I knew about myself. She was all I wanted and I took her away. Nothing else much matters.” Says the voiceover, setting the theme for the rest of the film.
She looks around the room, she appears to be sleeping in a room next to the kitchen, and bees are flying in everywhere, into the kitchen, her room and around her head. She smiles up at them and then runs through the kitchen and to her father’s room, waking him telling him about the bees. He gets up groggily and is pulled into her room, where there are no bees. He threatens her with punishment if she tries to get him up again like that.
Voiceover as she is sitting on the ground, her back to the bed, saying that the bees came in ’64, when she was fourteen and her life started spinning in a different direction. She says that god sent the bees and likens herself to the Virgin Mary.
A shot to an airconditioner and then a calendar that indicates it’s July 1964. Lily brings her father some breakfast and says that it’s her birthday tomorrow. She doesn’t want any material things, she just wants to know about her mother. The father looks at her and starts to storm off, but then sees a roach on the floor and stops, telling her that her mother used to spend hours throwing roaches out of the house and then he stomps on the bug.
A bunch of workers, mostly black, are picking peaches and a pan up to the Owen’s Peach Farm sign as the father loads up a truck and drives it off. Lily is manning a stand by the road, some kids hang out of a car and make fun of her.
Rosaleen (the housekeeper played by Jennifer Hudson) is trying to get the TV antennae working while Lily finally traps a bee on a map (foreshadowing) to prove to her father that they are around. Rosaleen asks Lily for help and the girl soon gets a clear picture and it shows the Civil Rights Bill being signs and Rosaleen is obviously happy with a breathy expletive escaping her.
Nighttime. Lily is looking at the bee and then runs out of the house deep into the farm and digs up a small tin box, she puts on a pair of gloves and looks at a photo of her mother. Then she inspects a small icon with a picture of the Virgin Mary and Jesus on it with a town in South Carolina written on the back. Lily lays down, unbuttoning her shirt and putting the icon and picture on her stomach. She looks up at the stars and has a discussion with her mother, saying that they both had the same type of hair.
An angry shout comes from the house, her father. Lily scrambles to put everything away and hide it. Her father comes with a flashlight and she pushes the box away, but he catches her buttoning up her shirt and drags her back inside, fuming about what she must have been doing. He pours out a box of cream of wheat on the floor, making her kneel on the rough grains, sitting down to watch her and pulling out a beer as she gasps in pain.
It’s over and with her bloodied knees, Lily inspects the bee again. She tries to let the bee go free out of the jar, but it won’t go. Rosaleen is cleaning up the cream of wheat and asks how long she was kneeling on it, Lily says an hour as she carefully and painfully moves to the counter. Rosaleen sighs and then shows Lily a cake, saying Happy Birthday. Lily is thrilled and takes a big piece, but they both stop as her father wanders in, moving to the fridge and getting out a beer. Rosaleen says that she’s taking Lily into town with her, T Ray asks why and Rosaleen pauses for a second before saying that Lily needs a training bra, she needs to get measured. T Ray gives her some money and then starts to leave, but stops and says Happy Birthday before going on out.
Rosaleen is spitting snuff into a can as they walk into a town and tells Lily she’s going and registering to vote. Lily says that people were killed in Mississippi for that, and Rosaleen says it’s a good thing that they don’t live in Mississippi. As they get into town, three white men stop them, asking where they’re going and why Lily is with a black woman. Lily says her father is busy on the farm and the men stop them again, asking if Rosa is going to the ‘secret’ meeting. One laughs and says that you have to be able to write your name to register to vote. The oldest man looks at Lily and asks if her servant is a “dumb nigger” or a “smart nigger”. Rosaleen looks at the men and then tips her spit can onto the ground, spelling out her name a letter at a time with the tobacco drippings, pouring a lot of it on the man’s shoes. They then beat her severely and the police come.
Her father gets her out of the sheriff’s car and pulls her to his truck. The men say that they need an apology and T Ray apologizes while Lily shrieks in anger. T Ray then tells his daughter that “Frank” would probably kill that woman for what she did. Lily says that he can’t be serious and her father replies that the Sheriff is going to take her to the hospital and she’ll be okay.
They drive back and T Ray tells Lily to say indoors. Lily then says that he doesn’t scare her and he’s a coward. He advanced towards her and he runs to her bed, screaming that her mother would have never let him hurt her. He grabs his daughter, saying that her mother never cared about her. He says her mother left and on the day she died, she was coming back for the rest of her things, but not Lily. Lily says that that’s not true, but her father looks serious and truthful. She looks over to where the bee was in the open jar and sees that it’s gone now.
Lily then leaves and leaves a note for her father saying not to look for her and that people that tell lies like that would rot in hell. Lily goes to see Rosaleen in the hospital who is being guarded by a police officer who is flirting with a nurse. She sneaks in and unties Rosaleen and puts a kerchief on her head to hide the bruise, saying that everything will be okay.
T Ray is storming down the hospital corridor, worried, and looks for his daughter in the room, Rosaleen and his daughter are gone.
Lily and Rosaleen are now making a trip back to where her mother was born. T Ray is searching his daughter’s room for any trace of where she might have gone, but finds nothing.
Rosaleen and Lily are talking at night and Rosaleen discovers that the reason that Lily ran away was because of what her father said, not to break her out of the hospital. She also adamantly defends Lily’s father, saying that he wouldn’t ever punch her. Lily and Rosaleen then fight, Rosaleen angry that she is following the girl just because she’s angry at her father and Lily expresses her anger that Rosaleen poured the spit can over the man’s shoes and not apologzing and is so ungrateful that Lily helped her get free. Their night ends with them going to sleep on opposite banks of the river.
The next morning they make up as they walk down a country road and Lily and Rosaleen make up, with Rosaleen telling Lily that apologizing to those men was just another way of dying. Lily says that she’ll buy some food if they can find a store open and Rosaleen asks what they’ll do for a bed. Lily says a hotel, but Rosaleen says that no hotel would take a coloured woman. When Lily asks about the Civil Rights Act, Lily says it’s just a piece of paper.
They get to a store and she orders some food for them both and the man asks her where he’s seen her before, she says that she isn’t from around there, but is staying with her grandma and he’ll wrap her things up. When she starts to head into the store, she sees some honey labeled as Black Madonna and it looks like the icon she had from her mother. The storekeeper explains that the honey is made by black people, that’s why the Virgin Mary is black and it’s the best honey in South Carolina. When Lily asks where it is, the storekeeper laughs and says that everyone knows that house and it’s painted like pepto bismol.
They watch a bunch of wealthier black families leave the pink house and then go up and knock at the door. June Boatwright (Alicia Keys) opens the door, looking sleek and sophisticated. Lily asks for Miss August and June let’s her in, and May Boatwright (Sophie Okonedo), looking much younger and very tall, is also there and smiles at them. May goes to get August and they look through the house and into the parlor where are a large statue of a black woman with her hand outstretched is a focal piece. It’s a beautiful, two story huge house with all the modern (in 1964) luxuries. When August (Queen Latifa) comes, Lily tells a story of a fictional aunt she’s going to see, just lost her father and her mother was killed when she was younger and asks if they can work to pay for train fare to Virginia. August sees that Rosaleen has been beaten and when her wounds are uncovered, May starts crying and has to leave. June doesn’t want them to stay, but August says that they can stay in a shed outside and they can work for their keep and to get money for the train fare.
They go to the shack where there are two beds made up and August tells them to use the restroom in the house and where they can find some food. Rosaleen tells Lily that she should be honest, but Lily says that if she was, they’d call T Ray and send her home and they’d call the police to get Rosaleen. Both of them are amazed because they never saw such cultured black people before.
June tells August that the two are trouble as they watch Lily wander around the farm, August agrees, but says that she needs to do this. Lily walks along a stone fence and read some of the notes hidden in the rocks and then finds her way to a small spring pool and puts her feet into it, looking content.
Morning and Lily sees June and a man talking outside as the other three women (May, August and Rosaleen) are in the kitchen, getting breakfast. Lily comes in and August tells her to pull up a chair. They talk about June being scared to marry the man (Neil, played by Nate Parker) and the conversation runs to their mother who liked to name them after months and May tells Lily that they had a girl called April, too, but she died when she was little. May then bursts into tears again and runs out as June comes in and asks what is going on, August says that it’s because June won’t marry Neil. Neil smiles and hugs and kisses June, trying to persuade her again to marry him. June gets cold towards him and pushes him away, saying she’s going down to the NAACP to canvass for voters (Roasleen perks up at that) and Neil asks about his pancakes, but June tells him he can make them for himself. August offers Lily some grits (think Cream of Wheat experience here), but Lily refuses and August says it’s time to start working then.
August sets up Lily and says that while she (August) has been stung so many times she’s immune, Lily needs to know beeyard (and life) etiquette. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be an idiot. Don’t swat at them. Send the bees love everything wants to be loved. August then explains that they have to take out the full trays and put in empty ones so that the bees don’t swarm and move away. Lily isn’t afraid and sends a lot of love and respect to the bees.
They take a break, and Lily asks about the wall with the notes in it. August says that that is May’s wall and that she’s a little different. April was May’s twin sister and they were very empathic with each other. When April died, May became empathic with the whole world and it wasn’t going well until they made the wall for her, her Wailing Wall, like the one in Jerusalem. The bits of paper are all the heavy feelings that May carries around and it’s the only thing that helps her.
August and Lily return and they see a fancy car outside. August says that that’s Zach’s (Tristan Wilds) car and he is probably in the honey house (where Lily and Rosaleen are sleeping) and that Lily should say hello. Zach ( August’s godson) is singing to the honey when Lily comes in and startles him. He mentions that May told him about Lily, but never mentioned she was white. Lily replies that maybe she didn’t notice.
June is sitting and playing the double bass. May and Rosaleen are sitting outside on the porch shelling something. Lily and August are tending the bees. Eveyrone is sitting on the porch, talking and relaxing and being together. Time is passing. May is crying and putting heavy thoughts in the wall. More time is passing. June and Neil are kissing. Rosaleen and May are playing. The family is praying in front of the statue in the parlor. Zach and Lily are making honey, he teaches her how to extract the honey from the slats. More time is passing. They are bottling honey and there is some chemistry between them and they talk about their futures. Lily wants to be a writer and to her surprise, Zach wants to be a lawyer.
The family and Rosaleen and Lily are sitting around the breakfast table and Lily asks why there is a Negro Mary on the label. June takes offense to that, but August diffuses it and calls a meeting of all the women in the neighbourhood to ‘church’ in their living room, they introduce themselves and August starts telling them about a time in slavery when they would go to church and pray for deliverance. Then one day, a man call Obidiah finds that statue up on the shore and it speaks to him and tells him that everything will be alright. And whenever someone is feeling weak or sad, they just touch it’s heart and it will be okay. Everyone goes up to touch it, with Lily being last, but before she touches it, she passes out with images of when she killed her mother flashing through her head.
She wakes up in August’s bed and asks for some water. When August asks if she’s okay, Lily said it was just the heat.
T Ray’s house is a mess, everything is unclean. He’s hitting baseballs to let off energy in the back and rotten peaches are everywhere.
Back in the kitchen they’re dancing to music while putting labels on the honey jars. June comes in and breaks up the party saying that Jack Palance, a white movie star was coming and planning on taking a black woman to the movies in the town and people are thinking about lining up to protect the movie theater. May starts to get upset, but Lily calms her down by asking her if she’d help with her hair. June makes a disparaging comment about how many white folk are raised by black people.
While May is braiding Lily’s hair, they talk about boys and May sees her attraction to Zach and Zach’s attraction to Lily and offers to teach Lily how to make the little cakes to get Zach to kiss her. Cut to Lily and Zach getting the slat of honey and Zach puts some of the ‘fall purple honey’ on his finger and feeds it to Lily, obviously both of them enjoying it.
June and Neil have a fight when he calls her a selfish bitch after she refuses to marry him again and won’t admit she’s scared of the commitment. She throws things at his car, saying he should never come back after what he said.
Lily says to August as they go out in the beekeeper uniforms that she expects they’ll be holding hands soon, but August says that June is one of the women that would rather die than forgive she still hasn’t forgiven August for painting the house pink. May wanted the colour and August said that it was a horrendous colour, but it lifted May’s heart. A house colour doesn’t matter, she says, but lifting someone’s heart, that matters. The bees are going into hibernation now and as they are listening to them, shrieks are heard and they run back.
May and Rosaleen are playing in the sprinkler and soon an all-out water fight starts. June comes out, angry that their screaming is disrupting her practice and as she gets nearer, Lily laughs and sprays her. June is furious and runs after her, but soon both of them are laughing and getting wet, falling on the ground. June’s laughter quickly gives way to tears and Lily holds her hand. June appears to have found a friendship with Lily as they get up together and June walks off to think while Lily goes to be with August.
Lily finds May in the kitchen late at night when she goes to get something to drink. May is making a tiny line of ghram crackers to catch a rodent. Lily asks if May had ever seen a white woman called Deborah Owens. May says yes, she was a sweet thing and stayed where Lily was staying. Then she becomes sad again and goes out to the wall.
A day or some time later Lily takes the picture of her mother and goes to find August, but the woman is gone to Columbia to pick something up and Zach says that he’d like Lily to come with him into town to drop off some honey. Lily is disappointed, but goes into town. He gives her a nice journal while they drive and she gives him a kiss, startling Zach. Lily then spills the story and Zach asks if all that stuff before was a lie. He asks why not just tell the truth, and Lily replies that she’s afraid the truth will just wreck everything, Zach doesn’t buy it. They drop off some of the honey and Zach sees how sad Lily is and tells her that they’re going to see a movie. Lily is shocked, starting to protest since whites and blacks don’t date or see movies together. Zach brushes it off.
They buy tickets separately and go in through the appropriate entrances (coloured and regular) and then Lily sits with Zach up in the black section. As the movie is going, men come and grab Zach, taking him away and hitting Lily over the head. They call the police at the home, and the pastor offers some help, the police say that they’ll look for him and let her know if they find anything. Everyone agrees not to tell May anything.
Lily goes to touch the Black Virgin statue and asks her to let him be okay and hours later, Zach’s mother comes to do the same. May is sitting on the porch with Rosaleen and August and is sewing and asks where the scissors are, August tells her inside and she goes in and meets Zach’s mother who tells May everything and May goes into a level of shock and despair. She asks her sisters why she didn’t tell her and then faints. She gets up and says she needs to go to the wall.
They watch her stumble out and then some time passes and everyone is in the kitchen waiting. August goes to look at the wall, but she’s not there. They go out searching, calling her name. After some searching they find her body in the river and both sisters are prostrate with grief. Lily gets ill and Rosaleen is shocked and comforts Lily.
The next morning, Rosaleen and Lily are sleeping on the floor of the honey house together and a car pulls up and Zach gets out. He gets hugs all around and Lily and Zach awkwardly hug and Zach blames himself for what May did. August says that it isn’t his fault, May did it. At the wall, August finds May’s last note. She apologizes for leaving them, but that she’s tired of carrying around the weight of the world and wants to be with her sister and parents. She tells them it’s their time to live.
August putting the bees in hibernation. People eating cornbread and honey at the funeral. A lot of shots of grief of both of the sisters and everyone trying to help them. The funeral where people sprinkle meal on the grave. Neil is the 4th to last and walks over to June, whispering something in her ear. The two sisters then sprinkle the rest of the stuff onto the grave and sing at the grave with Lily watching.
At the dinner table August and June fight over the last hushpuppy and Rosaleen says it’s not a big deal, she’ll make some more. August hears that and says that she’ll be calling Rosaleen July now and Rosaleen looks shocked and happy. Rosaleen is now sleeping in May’s room and leaves Lily by herself in the honey house. Lily starts packing up her things.
She goes into August’s room and shows her a picture of her mother. August smiles and nods, recognizing the woman and telling Lily that she was her mother’s nanny and she was waiting until Lily was more on her feet before telling her everything. And that she looked just like her. Lily then takes the blame for Zach and May and spills her guts about killing her mother, sobbing on the floor saying she just wanted to be loved. August says that love is all around her and leads her outside.
August tells her on a swinging chair outside about how her parents met and how in love they were and how brave her father was in the war. Lily says that that isn’t the father she knows. August goes on to say how they were very much in love, but things fade and people change and about six months later, they weren’t in love, but she was pregnant, so they got married. August got a lot of letters and pictures of Lily as a baby, but then the letters dried up and then there weren’t any. Then Deborah ran away, and came alone, leaving Lily behind. She got better in the honey house and went back after she got less depressed. Lily looks shocked and depressed, realizing what her father said was true. August says that she was certain Deborah was going back for Lily, but Lily just walks away.
T Ray is sitting, staring a wall and then looks at it again, realizing it was the map that Lily put up and there is a pinhole in it. He puts the map back up and finds out where she is via the pinhole.
August comes in with a box and tells Lily that there were some things her mother had left. Lily looks at August and says that she must have really loved her mother. August says, yes, but it was complicated. She was her mother’s nanny and there isn’t love with there’s so much hate around them. August then says that Deborah made her love her anyways, but that there isn’t a perfect love. She then shows her a mirror, which Lily won’t take since that is so tied in with the marble and gun and her mother’s death. A hairbrush that still has a few golden hairs in it, a golden pin of a whale and then finally a picture of her mother and Lily as a baby, with her mother hugging her. Lily breaks down in tears, finally realizing her mother did love her.
Zach comes down to see Lily and Lily tells him that he’s changed. She asks what they did, but he won’t tell. He says he gets so angry sometimes he wants to kill someone. Lily says that the men who took him are like that too, and it makes them mean. She makes him promise that he won’t be like them. He promises not and they have a long kiss. Zach then says that he’ll definitely be a lawyer now and that in 10 or 15 years they’ll be at Lily’s booksigning. He gives her the dogtags that he always wore around his neck with his name and makes her promise not to forget their story.
Neil comes by and looks to June. They have a spat for a little, but then she agrees to marry him. He’s happy and Rosaleen and August cheer. He goes to pick out a ring.
T Ray shows up and he talks to Lily who is wearing her mother’s pin. T Ray starts going crazy after he sees the pin and learns that his wife used to live here when she ran away from them and strikes Lily. Lily screams that she’s not his wife and T Ray snaps out of it, saying that she looks just like her. Lily then refuses to go home with T Ray and says she wants to stay. August, June and Rosaleen all back her up and say they’ll take care of her and make sure she goes to school and gets raised right.
T Ray leaves and Lily runs out after him, asking if it was true that her mother was only coming back for her things. T Ray says no, she was coming for you. Lily asks why he lied and T Ray says it’s because she wasn’t coming from him as well. They part in silence.
Ending shots of everyone happy and Lily writing about how she has many mother’s now and they’re all part of her. She goes to the wall and put in the notebook filled with her story and walks away.
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