Five minutes into The Secret Life of Bees, we learn Lily Owens's (Dakota Fanning) life-altering secret: When she was just four years old, she accidentally shot and killed her mother. Lily's mom had left her and her dad, T. Ray (Paul Bettany), months earlier and had returned, according to him, simply to retrieve her belongings. Not, he stresses to now 14-year-old Lily, to retrieve her.
Father and daughter have spent the intervening 10 years in a fog of grief and abuse, which is only heightened by the racial tensions swirling about them in their small southern town (it's the summer of 1964). Lily's one consolation is sneaking out at night to dig up a box of her mom's things—silk gloves, her picture, and an illustration of a Black Madonna.
Scribbled on the back of this odd religious image is the name of a town—Tiburon, South Carolina. When T. Ray's abuse escalates and Lily's black caretaker, Rosaleen (Jennifer Hudson), gets brutally attacked by the town racists, Lily stages their escape to this mysterious promised land. It's the one sense of direction her mother seems to have left Lily for discovering who she is and where she belongs.
After hitch-hiking to Tiburon, Lily and Rosaleen discover that the Black Madonna image is from the label on some locally made honey. The beekeepers—August (Queen Latifah), June (Alicia Keys), and May (Sophie Okonedo) Boatwright—live in a Pepto-Bismol-pink house at the edge of town. When Lily tells them a tall tale about recently deceased parents and an aunt they're traveling toward, the sisters offer them temporary shelter on the cots in their honey house.
Before falling asleep that night, Lily announces to Rosaleen, "I feel like I'm where I'm supposed to be. Now I just need ...1