Spelling the Dream is the latest Original Documentary from Netflix. The film is directed by Sam Rega and explores the successes of Indian-American children and teenagers in state and nationwide spelling bees. The film has a specific focus on four competitors and follows them as they attempt to be the best of the bee.
In the film’s efforts to explore just why Indian-American children are so successful in spelling bees it provides an interesting and important history on how, when and why Indian families originally came to America. This is an engaging way to begin the documentary and the insight into the heritage of these families enriches both the film and the knowledge and understanding of the viewers. Spelling the Dream achieves what it sets out to do in answering the main question it addresses and it goes on to discuss other issues and misconceptions that affect the competitors and their families. The documentary looks at the assumption that all successful competitors must come from a home run by pushy parents and most importantly it highlights the racism that is experienced by this community of competitors.
The second half of the documentary focuses less on the discussion around the main questions that the filmmakers are asking and more so on the competition itself. This half isn’t quite as engaging as the commentary that the first half of the film offers. However, it is still interesting to watch the competition play out and to see how the competitors react to both achieving and falling short of their goals, as well as their varying approaches to preparing. If you enjoyed Channel 4’s Child Genius series you’ll most likely find this a similarly engaging watch. There’s a certain emotional engagement too as the films shows just how much these competitions mean to the young competitors and their families. The comments included from past winners, now grown up, enhances this element too as their experiences as trail-blazers in these competitions clearly charts the importance of spelling bees for Indian-Americans and why their success in them should be celebrated.
Spelling the Dream is both educational and engaging, it shines a spotlight on the successes of a minority group and takes time to celebrate their achievements. The film also makes sure to address the racist reactions they have endured as a result and how these may develop in the future. This informative discussion is complimented by the coverage of the competitive spelling bees but a more consistent conversation might have combined the two elements with more cohesion.
Written by Hamish Calvert
STAR RATING –★★★
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