Breaking the Bee: A 20-year spelling bee dynasty gets captured on film

Breaking the Bee: A 20-year spelling bee dynasty gets captured on film

March 30, 2018 | Author: Sam Rega, Director of "Breaking the Bee"

Since 1999, 18 of the last 22 Scripps National Spelling Bee champions have been of Indian descent, including the last 10 years in a row.

Today, I am pleased to announce the world premiere of “Breaking the Bee,” a documentary that chronicles the ups and downs of four Indian-American students, ages 7 to 14, as they compete to win the 2017 Scripps National Spelling Bee title and cement their place in the two-decade dynasty of Indian-Americans dominating the iconic competition.


Co-champions Nihar Janga (left) and Jairam Hathwar (right) hold the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee trophy.

“Breaking the Bee” analyzes the origins of the winning streak and what has kept it alive, including interviews from CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Fareed Zakaria, ESPN’s Kevin Negandhi, comedian Hari Kondabolu, 1999 Scripps winner Nupur Lala, and others.

The film began as a curiosity. In late 2015, I was working at Business Insider when Chris Weller, a reporter and colleague, mentioned the winning streak of Indian-American spellers. I was instantly taken by the statistics. From that moment we partnered, Chris becoming the producer and myself becoming the director.

This is a perfect storm of events beginning with the change in immigration laws in 1965 to the formation of the North South Foundation and South Asian Spelling Bee, two Indian-only spelling bees. The first Indian-American winner was Balu Natarajan in 1985. Nupur Lala was the third in 1999, and with the spelling bee airing yearly on ESPN, this community saw success. “Success seemed attainable, it seemed achievable, because you’d watched other Indian-Americans do it,” CNN’s Fareed Zakaria says in the film.

This cultural achievement is worthy of great admiration, but few people know about it or can explain its longevity. In making “Breaking the Bee,” Chris and I wanted to give a voice to the community and capture the story at the height of the trend. It’s a story that celebrates learning, achievement, family, and the American Dream.



Breaking the Bee makes its world premiere at the Cleveland International Film Festival!

Screenings: Friday, April 6 at 6:50pm and Sunday, April 8 at 4:35pm.

For tickets visit:

It makes its New York City premiere at the New York Indian Film Festival!

Screening: Saturday, May 12 at 12:15pm at Village East Cinemas in Manhattan.

For tickets visit:

Follow the film on Facebook!


Sam Rega is a director, producer and editor in New York City. He edited documentaries for several years in Miami with rakontur, the studio behind the “Cocaine Cowboys” documentary series. Sam also directed the esports documentary, “League of Millions,” and made his debut in 2008 with “Miami Noir: The Arthur E. Teele Story.” Sam is a graduate of the University of Miami and a Knight Arts Challenge recipient.



Chris Weller is a writer based in New York City. He has written for Business Insider, Newsweek, and The Atlantic, and has also appeared on NPR. Currently, he works as Senior Science Editor at the NeuroLeadership Institute. Chris has researched and reported on the spelling bee extensively over the past several years. “Breaking the Bee” marks Chris’ filmmaking debut.