Fox Searchlight drawn to 'Bees'


Fox Searchlight is boarding "The Secret Life of Bees," distributing and overseeing the production of the big-screen adaptation of the Sue Monk Kidd best-seller. Queen Latifah, Jennifer Hudson and Sophie Okonedo will star.

Searchlight also confirmed Wednesday that it is in final negotiations with Dakota Fanning and Alicia Keys to also star in the film, a female-oriented coming-of-age tale. Tristan Wilds will play one of the film's male roles.

Gina Prince-Bythewood ("Love & Basketball") -- who is attached to direct the adaptation of another best-seller, "I Know This Much Is True," for Fox 2000 -- will direct "Bees" from her own script.

"Bees," a drama set in the Southern U.S. in the 1960s, centers on teenager Lily Owens (Fanning) and her friend Rosaleen (Hudson) who flee their hometown to escape their harsh upbringing and seek to uncover the mysteries of Lily's late mother. Along the way, they encounter three beekeeping sisters (Latifah, Okonedo, Keys) who take the pair in to their South Carolina home.

The movie's script was completed before the writers strike, allowing the project to go into production in January in North Carolina. Searchlight is planning on a 2008 release.

The Donners' Co. is producing "Bees" along with Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment; Lauren Shuler Donner and Jack Leslie are producing for Donners, while James Lassiter and Smith are producing for Overbrook. Joe Pichirallo also is attached as a producer.

Monk Kidd's novel was a sensation when it was released five years ago, spending more than two years on the New York Times best-seller list.

Latifah will star in Callie Khouri's upcoming "Mad Money" for Overture Films and the Fox ensemble comedy "What Happens in Vegas." Hudson has a role in the upcoming big-screen version of "Sex and the City"; the Oscar winner and former "American Idol" contestant also is set to star opposite Fanning in Columbia's drama "Winged Creatures." Okonedo, who had a breakout role in Terry George's "Hotel Rwanda," recently was seen in "Martian Child."

Searchlight, which has "Juno" and "The Savages" in theaters, is expected to be a significant player at January's Sundance Film Festival. It also has several projects on its 2008 slate, including the Keanu Reeves crime drama "The Night Watchman" and the Shawn Levy-helmed drama "The Way Back."