Spelling bees rule on stage and screen -- The nerve-racking academic tradition gets treated like a sport in movies and an off-Broadway play

By Jennifer Armstrong
Updated February 28, 2005 at 05:00 AM EST

The cast of Off Broadway’s The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee is singing its way through words like phylactery and acouchi. Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishburne are shooting Akeelah and the Bee, the story of an inner-city girl who becomes a champion speller. In this fall’s Bee Season, Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche’s marriage unravels as their daughter works the bee circuit. And just like that, a geeky grammar school pursuit is all the rage. ”I’m not treating it as an academic competition; I’m treating it as a sports movie,” says Akeelah writer-director Doug Atchison. ”It’s as exciting, nerve-racking, and exhilarating an event as I’ve seen.” Mathletes, stand by. Your time will come.