Quvenzhané Wallis stars in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ as Hushpuppy, a young girl who lives in abject poverty with her single-father, named Wink, in a small community known as the Bathtub.
‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ is about many things. But, it is mainly about Hushpuppy–the story she tells of her life and how she sees the world. In school, Hushpuppy learns of magical creatures named “aurochs,” who coexisted with the cavemen in the Paleolithic era, but now the creatures are frozen–in stasis, really–inside the polar ice caps. The aurochs haunt the daydreams of Hushpuppy and come to play an important role in Hushpuppy’s transformation as the movie progresses.
The Bathtub is a marshland area, surrounded by water and separated from the mainland by a levee. In anticipation of a giant storm that will flood the Bathtub, most of the people–meaning all of those who are able to leave and have someplace to go–pack up and leave before the storm falls. Hushpuppy and her father stay. When the howling of the wind and the rain drops coming through the tin and wood walls begins to scare Hushpuppy, her father takes a shotgun and goes outside into the storm, shoots off several rounds at the sky, and shouts the message to his little girl that there is nothing to fear.
Wink is unwell, and his ability to care for his daughter–an ability already barely in existence at the time the movie begins–decreases further as the movie progresses. Hushpuppy endures physical abuse at the hands of her father, who slaps her across the face out of anger in one scene. Wink appears to be attempting to toughen his daughter up for the life that he feels lies ahead of her, preparing her for the day when she will have to take care of herself. While watching the movie I feared that Wink would begin to sexually abuse his daughter; thankfully, no sexual abuse of Hushpuppy came to pass. But, even in the abscence of sexual abuse, the neglect which Huspuppy endures may be difficult to watch.
‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ was directed by Benh Zeitlin;the script was written by Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar as a loose adaption of Alibar’s one-act play Juicy and Delicious. In the original play, Hushpuppy was a boy.
Some have questioned the decision to cast a little black girl in a role where the character endures such harsh deprivation.
The movie is based on a stageplay called Juicy and Delicious written by a non-Black woman so yes, I was wondering if they chose to cast this role with a little Black girl because imagining a little White girl enduring this level of neglect and abuse was impossible.
The Bathtub is a racially mixed community and there are children the same age as Hushpuppy with whom she attends school and plays. Hushpuppy’s playmates’ look just as disheveled and ill-kept as Hushpuppy, although the viewer never seems much of what goes on inside her playmates home, thus a direct comparison between the lives of Hushpuppy and her friends is not possible.
‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ is beautiful to look at, but the harshness of it all is hard to swallow. Quvenzhané Wallis was only 5 years old when the film was made, and now at 9 years old she is the youngest actress to ever be nominated for an Oscar for her role as Hushpuppy. Wallis literally steals the show, and even with mythical creatures come to life Wallis’ acting is what drives the story and ultimately what keeps your attention until the very last poignant scene.
Just in case you haven’t already seen it, here’s the trailer for the film.
Do you plan on seeing ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’?
Jamila Akil is a Senior Editor at Beyond Black and White. You can follow her on Twitter @jamilaakil