There’s a wonderful phenomenon going on in black movies these days. From a business perspective, Think Like A Man proved that an all-black cast can succeed in the mainstream arena without buffoonish characterizations and silenced studio heads who insist that “black movies don’t sell.” On the independent side, a bumper crop of maverick directors like Dee Rees (“Pariah”), Ava DuVernay (“Middle of Nowhere”) and Steve McQueen (“Shame”) are filling the void of intelligent and compelling drama with art-house quality projects. Call it a second renaissance of black cinema if you will.
Joining in this revolutionary movement is Beasts of The Southern Wild. An emotionally stunning film by Benzh Zeitlin, Southern Wild is both magical and gritty realism, a cautionary fairy tale about environmental abuse and humanity’s survival. What is most groundbreaking is that the story is told through of the eyes of Hushpuppy, a six-year-old little black girl. Played by Quvenzhane Wallis, Hushpuppy lives in a Bayou-like community called The Bathtub with her father, Wink (Dwight Henry). From the opening scenes of Southern Wild, we realize that Hushpuppy is unlike any other child we’ve ever seen. While most girls are blasting Nicki Minaj or Beyonce on their iPods, Hushpuppy is more interested in the sounds and beats of life stirring right outside her door. Whether she has a baby chick pressed up against her ear, or listening to her daddy’s heartbeat while he’s asleep, Hushpuppy is an observant student of the universe. Without the distractions of modern-day technology, Hushpuppy is plugged in to the world around her.
With her bushy ‘fro and her all-purpose rain boots, Hushpuppy is far from the typical girly-girl. Her father has dispensed with traditional gender norms, and is preparing his daughter to be “King of The Bathtub.” For Wink, his seemingly outrageous child-rearing techniques have Darwinist overtones—it’s survival of the fittest out here in the wilds of Louisiana. He teaches Hushpuppy to fish with her hands and even has her set up in a separate trailer home. All of Hushpuppy’s life lessons are put to excellent use when calamity arrives—the polar ice caps melt, flooding most of the Northern hemisphere.
Newcomer Quvenwallis Wallis is an absolute marvel as Hushpuppy. Whereas most children portrayed on-screen are annoyingly hyperactive and obnoxious, Quvenzhane brings a calming serenity to her character. Hushpuppy’s heroics aren’t from a supernatural mutant gene or a gun, but stem from the sincere goodness of her heart. Dwight Henry’s performance is so authentic and heartfelt, it’s hard to believe he had no acting experience beforehand.
Beasts Of The Southern Wild will make some uncomfortable in seeing poverty up close, and may even be dismissed as just another exercise in Black pathology or “victim porn” (i.e. Precious). They would be wrong. Hushpuppy is no one’s victim. Hushpuppy grows into a courageous young girl who claims the world as her rightful inheritance without a thought as to her race or her gender. In this New World order, God has rewritten the gospel and given this little black girl dominion over the earth. And to that, I say “Amen.”
Final Grade: B+
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“Beasts of The Southern Wild”: One of The Best Black Films You Need To See was originally published on theurbandaily.com