Breaking the Bee: Documentary Explores What Makes Indian American Kids Win Spelling Bee Contests

Indian American kids created a new history in the finals of the 92nd National Spelling Bee this year. The eighth co-champions of the National Spelling Bee 2019 included seven Indian American kids, including three from Texas, two from New Jersey, one from Maryland, and one from San Jose, California. Out of the 16 finalists this year, 11 were of Indian-origin. Many people scratch their heads pondering over what makes a handful of Indian American kids beat a few million spellers from across North America.

‘Breaking the Bee’, an acclaimed documentary on what makes Indian American kids shine in National Spelling Bee competitions had a special screening at the 2018 New York Indian Film Festival (NYIFF) and other leading film festivals in the United States.

All about ‘Breaking the Bee’ Documentary

The first-generation Indians in America have come out with flying colors in the National Spelling Bee competitions for two decades. Among the 21 champions of the Scripps National Spelling Bee contests held from 1999 to 2016, 17 winners are young Indian Americans. The consistent success of Indian-origin contestants has raised many eyebrows and questions especially because the Indian American community forms only one percent of the United States’ total population, according to the 2014 US census.

Breaking The Bee, a 2017 documentary film on Indian American kids who are as potential as child prodigies, packs in the answer to all the questioning minds, frowned foreheads and raised fingers.  Two journalists from Business Insider Films, Sam Rega and Chris Weller made the documentary to decode the mystery of Indian American students’ success in the National Spelling Bee contests.

National Spelling Bee, Indian American kids, Breaking the Bee documentary, National Geographic Bee

Breaking the Bee dispels all doubts and questions like what motivates the contestants from the Indian American community to take over the top 10, year after year; what drives them to ascend in the competition, etc. There are innumerable speculations and explanations over the winning performance of young Indian Americans in the spelling bee. More than 40% of total 45 finalists in the National Spelling Bee 2016 were from the Indian community in USA.

The makers of the feature-length documentary Breaking The Bee explored the family life, cultural background, ambitions, study habits, training, zeal and talent of the Indian American National Spelling Bee winners to discover what led them to meet with success. The documentary also features some of the Indian-origin kids who participated in the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

6-year-old Akash Vukoti from San Angelo in Texas is the one of the spelling bee geniuses who ‘Breaking The Bee’ features. He was the youngest contestant in the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee.

The filmmaker duo – Sam Rega and Chris Weller – also caught up with USA-based sociologists, teachers, journalists, anthropologists and other professionals who are close to Indian Americans and have observed their cultural lives. These experts helped the makers of Breaking the Bee documentary frame a picture of what plays the instrumental in the success of Indian American kids in the National Spelling Bee competition.

Some of the findings by the filmmakers of Breaking The Bee are that Indian American spelling bee finalists have a definitive edge over others because of their bilingual proficiency; they spend long hours studying the connotations and structures of English words under the strict tutelage of their coaches and parents; they undergo formidable training sessions and tests.

Indian American kids have not only shone in the National Spelling Bee contests but also stood out in the National Geographic Bee competitions in USA. The National Geographic Bee is a most popular competition in which millions of school children participate from across America and their knowledge of geography is tested. The winning edge of young Indian Americans in both of these knowledge competitions has been reported over 80% in the past 10 years.  

This story is brought to you by Indian Eagle Travel at its overseas Indian community portal, Travel Beats, as part of the continued effort to promote achievements of Indians in USA. Indian Eagle not only strives to make last minute air tickets from US to India cheaper, but also caters inspiring community stories, visa & immigration news, and international travel alerts through free newsletters.

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