Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Review: Spelling the Dream

Release date: June 3, 2020
Running time: 83 minutes

Spelling the Dream follows the phenomenan of Indian-American dominance at the Scripps National Spelling Bee.  An Indian-American competitor has won the competition for the past 12 years straight, making the trend one of the longest in sports history.  The documentary follows the ups and downs of four Indian-American students as they compete to realize their dream of winning the tournament.  It also contains great perspectives from prominent Indian Americans, including CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Fareed Zakaria, comedian Hari Kondabolu, ESPN's Kevin Negandhi, 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee winner, Nupur Lala, and others, as the film explores the reasons behind this incredible winning streak and what it means for the community. 

The bulk of the film highlights the four students who are hoping to take home the top spot.  The documentary does a great job selecting four very different students with a common goal.  The kids are not what you would expect as your typical bookworms.  One is a precocious, extroverted sixth grader.  Another is a sports fan who also plays tennis and loves his lucky Nike sweatshirt.  It is a good selection and one that should help with any sort of "tiger mom" style stereotypes about these kids.  They have natural talent at spelling and are driven to succeed, but they also have other interests and pursuits.  But that is not to take away from their dedication to winning the spelling bee.  The film gives you a sense of the dedication that these students go through to get to this level.  The amount that they prepare is astonishing, as is their mastery of spelling and languages in general.  

But although the film is focused on the spelling bee hopefuls, it is so much more than that.  The film looks into the Indian immigrant experience and tries to provide some explanation for why Indian kids have been so dominant in the spelling bee.  For this, the film uses explanations from the student's parents, and the insights from prominent Indian American figures to piece together some reasons for this.  It looks at the immigrant experience and also what drove these talented speller's parents to come to America.  It also touches on issues of racism and of belonging for these kids, highlighted by their journey to, and participation in, this competition.  Some of the interviews with early Indian-American entrants shows how far these kids and the culture have come.  And finally, as with any good competitive documentary, the film has highlights, heartbreak, and the thrill of competition.  You will be rooting just as hard for these competitors as you would at any sporting event, and experience their joy and pain!

Spelling the Dream looks into the Indian-American dominance at the spelling bee and tells a tale of competitors, the immigrant experience, and of belonging along the way. 

Watch it.

No comments:

Post a Comment