A Moment in Time: How the Secret Life of Bees Stars Connect Past Civil Rights Struggles with Today's American History

Article excerpt


When Jennifer Hudson got the call to sing the national anthem at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, she almost cried.

"I don't know if I can do this," the Academy Award-winning actress and singer told her mother ill Chicago. She was about to perform before perhaps the most important audience of her life.

"Baby," said her mother, trying to calm her down, "just get all your tears out the way now, because you don't want to cry that night."

Indeed, on that warm August evening, she did not cry in front of 80,000 Democratic Party delegates, supporters and media gathered in Denver to hear Sen. Barack Obama make history. Hudson, at just 26, had been asked to sing the national anthem before the first Black presidential nominee of a major party would make his acceptance speech. And sing she did.

"I had to separate myself from the moment aim not be too emotional to sing," she says.

Across the Atlantic, relaxing in a house in France, Alicia Keys sat comfortably in a T-shirt, taking it all in. "I was on vacation in Europe, watching it on TV, mesmerized that this historic event was taking place in my lifetime," says the 27-year-old singer and actress. Meanwhile, Dana (Queen Latifah) Owens, 38, was on vacation in Spain, but she didn't miss the significance of the moment either. Even though it was 3 a.m., she proudly watched her friend Jennifer Hudson perform and Obama speak. They were just two of the more than 38.4 million viewers who shared the moment around the world.


For each of them, and thousands of other celebrities and citizens, this moment in time has connected them with the millions around the country and world who are trying to seize a part of history.

And, like others in Hollywood and around the globe, Hudson, Latifah and Keys are inspired by this historic moment, by Obama's run for the presidency. Each, they say, will be voting on Nov. 4 and will encourage others to do the same.


These three entertainers are making a connection of their own as they co-star in The Secret Life of Bees, a movie about the civil rights events more than 40 years ago that made it possible for Obama to run for president today.

Set in the summer of 1964 right after the Civil Rights Act was passed but before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was approved, the movie shows, among other things, that Black people endured hardships and injustices to achieve the right to vote, something those in that generation thought would never happen in their lifetime.

The movie's director, Gina Prince-Bythewood, who wrote the script based on Sue Monk Kidd's best-selling novel, used the voting connection between the two eras to help get the actors into the mind-set of the '60s.

"It was great to use Barack as a parallel because during that time [the '60s], people were saying in their lifetime, 'I'll never see myself getting a chance to vote.' And then suddenly, the [Voting Rights] law kicks in," Prince-Bythewood says. "And many of us today were saying it will happen one day but never in nay lifetime will we see a Black president, mad suddenly here we are."


Early in the movie, during a scene that makes you angry, Rosaleen, Hudson's nanny character, is beaten and stomped by White men as she walks to register to vote for the first time ha South Carolina. In the end, Rosaleen proudly announces, "I am now a registered voter."


Neither Hudson, Keys nor Latifah is old enough to know firsthand about the civil rights struggles, but they are all aware of the sacrifices made to open doors for them and their generation to vote and achieve dreams. And like Hudson, each wants to do whatever she can to make a change in the White House.

Keys has set up an Election 2008 page on her Web site to encourage people to register mad to vote. …