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Letter to the Producers of Akeelah and the Bee

This campaign is now closed. But the text of the letter that many of the 98 nursing supporters sent to the producers can be found below.


Dear Mr. Atchison, Mr. Fishburne, Ms. Hult Ganis, Mr. Ganis, Mr. Llewelyn and Mr. Romersa:

I am deeply disappointed by the inaccurate depiction of nursing in "Akeelah and the Bee." The movie suggests that nursing is a dead end job for physician wannabes who lack college training. This incorrect but persistent vision is a factor in the nursing shortage that is taking lives worldwide. I urge you to apologize and make amends to nursing.

I was troubled by the portrayal of Akeelah's bitter mother Tanya, a nurse. Although the nursing elements in the film are obviously limited, they seem to lie at the core of the movie's message: work hard, fear not, and with luck, things like nursing will not happen to you. (The film may not specifically say Tanya is a nurse, but I understand that Ms. Bassett wore hospital ID in the filming stating that the character was a registered nurse, and reactions to the film show that many if not most viewers plausibly see her as one.)

Early in the film, we see Tanya in her scrubs, snapping that she has to "work at the hospital on Saturday." Tanya isn't exactly on a starry-eyed health care mission, and her personal conduct includes smoking cigarettes in the house in which her infant granddaughter lives. At one point, Dr. Larrabee demands to know whether Akeelah has any goals in life: "What would you like to be when you grow up? A doctor, a lawyer...a standup comic?" After Tanya comes to support Akeelah's spelling ambitions, she confides: "Did you know your mom went to college? Right after high school. I had a scholarship. I was going to be a doctor. I felt out of place. Afraid I was going to fail. I dropped out. I don't want you to do the same thing." Later, Akeelah asks hopefully: "You think you might go back to college?" Tanya: "I just might."

This is grossly inaccurate. It takes at least three years of college-level training in nursing to become a registered nurse. Over one million U.S. nurses have bachelor's degrees in nursing. About 400,000 have graduates degrees in nursing. Nurses like Tanya provide life-saving care to the same urban populations the film examines, including young, at-risk mothers like Akeelah's sister. Graduate-prepared nurse practitioners provide high quality care to these same groups. And doctorally-prepared nursing scholars work on the leading edge of research to improve the health of poor urban communities, addressing problems like HIV, diabetes, and domestic violence.

The film contrasts lowly nursing with the glory of medicine, the profession Tanya wanted to join before her dreams were crushed. Dr. Larrabee also trots out the familiar "doctor-lawyer" professional ideal in pushing Akeelah to consider her long-term goals. "Akeelah and the Bee" suggests that the bottom line remains that persons of color achieve by joining the same old esteemed professions. Evidently, there's no need to question the fairness or accuracy of traditional assumptions about what kind of work has worth. The trick seems to be to learn how to win, and devil take the hindmost--an idea the film questions when it comes to spelling bees, even as its vision of the professions strongly reinforces it.

I urge you to apologize to nurses. I also hope you will work to improve the way Hollywood portrays nurses. I would be thrilled to see a feature film that portrays nurses as they really are--educated, life-saving professionals that the world cannot do without.

Thank you for considering my concerns.