Spelling the Dream (2020)
June 14, 2020 6:46 AM - Subscribe

Chronicle of the ups and downs of four Indian-American students as they compete to realize their dream of winning the iconic tournament.
posted by ellieBOA (4 comments total)
I am Indian-American, and I can tell you that the spelling bee is MADE for a certain type of Indian immigrant parent. (Thankfully, not mine.) When I was growing up in the 90s, my local public library was filled with parents grilling their kids from quiz books, all Saturday, every Saturday.

Of course, the thought of their kids majoring in English or the arts, or going on to a creative career, would be anathema to these parents, for whom the "American Dream" (as per that IndieWire article) means winning a spelling or geography bee, studying medicine or engineering, and settling into a suburban McMansion with a fountain in the front yard. The spelling bee is not really about language -- it's about mastering a finite (and therefore crammable) set of language tools, which is deeply addictive to a certain subset of immigrants who buy into the "Education Macht Frei" mentality.

That's not to diminish the work the kids put into it. I'm just really put off by the framing of the documentary and those two articles.
posted by basalganglia at 8:50 AM on June 14, 2020 [4 favorites]

Thanks for that perspective basalganglia.
posted by ellieBOA at 9:07 AM on June 14, 2020

Spelling the Dream is currently streaming in the US via Netflix.
posted by Etrigan at 6:14 AM on June 16, 2020

I told my spelling bee story here almost exactly a year ago. Of course, I caught this doc as soon as I heard about it (and promptly forgot to post it here; thank you ellieBOA), and I still can't quite decide (as a non-Indian) whether the Hollywood Reporter review or the NYT review is closer to the truth about the role of the parents:

What some viewers may be surprised to never encounter over the course of Spelling the Dream's 83-minute run time is a single tiger parent. Indeed, the film features many scenes of parental tenderness and supportiveness — images lacking in so many mainstream narratives about Asian American families.
What’s missing from the uplifting proceedings, however, is an ounce of critical examination of South Asian parental pressure, competitive child sporting or the long-term value of rote memorization.
There's definitely a lot of tiger parenting around the various bees (spelling, geography, Bible, etc.), and not just by immigrant or non-white parents, and I didn't really buy that all four of these kids just happened to be super-self-motivated.

This was a good movie. It suffers only because it's so firmly in the shadow of Spellbound. If we continue to get one of these spelling-bee documentaries for each generation, Spelling the Dream will probably be high in the canon.
posted by Etrigan at 6:31 AM on June 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

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