I am a tough critic when it comes to films. There are very few films that take my breath away, so when I say I love something I really LOVE it. It's been over a month since I've seen Beasts of the Southern Wild, and the film is still rocking my core. It left me with a lot of questions and theories, some of which I would love to discuss with the director one day — this alone means the film touched me.
How is it possible that a film can touch on so many issues (social dynamics, environmental challenges, the Apocalypse, love and relationships) in a way that is not confusing or silly? This film was able to do just that.
The trailer alone captured me. I was completely drawn in by the little character, Hushpuppy, played by Quvenzhané Wallis who was about 5 years old at the time the movie was filmed. I LOVE her. I am convinced she has the physical and emotional essence of my daughter to be (should I have a daughter one day). She is what tugged at my heart to see this film. Maybe it was because I hadn't seen a film featuring a little brown girl since Crooklyn or because her charisma shined through in the short few minutes of the trailer. Either way I just knew I had to learn more.
Despite everything the film covers, I was most connected to the relationships between Hushpuppy and her father, and her absent mother. So much so it left me crying throughout the film.
Hushpuppy is this little girl full of strength, curiosity, self-awareness, and promise. Her eyes are full of life, rich with experience, yet still have so much more to see. She's loved by her father in the best way he knew how to love and nurture a little girl. Through tough love and discipline he shows Hushpuppy how to survive, because in their world, in their circumstances, survival is the best gift of love you could give (or receive).
Which brings me to why I loved this movie and why it touched me so.
Towards the end of the film Hushpuppy says she could remember on two fingers how many times she had been lifted (**tears**). She's then shown being held at birth by her father, and in present-day by her mother. That scene made me think about so many children who have never been held affectionately, or lifted in their self-esteem. Without getting too deep, it also made me think about all the little Hushpuppies everywhere who are taught to be tough, taught to yell and scowl to get attention and to be heard; otherwise they'll be overlooked or forgotten.
It's an image I see all too often. Both negative and positive. If I had time or had to write a thesis paper about it I would compare Hushpuppy to Troy's character in Spike Lee's Crooklyn — different time, different space, but the same thread of survival, strength, and responsibility at an early age holds true. (Yet the lens in which the characters are portrayed are significantly different, but that's a whole other post, or a graduate thesis paper.)
I don't know if the director, Benh Zeitlin, was intentionally trying to speak to this concept but Beasts of the Southern Wild poetically articulated some of the challenges that a lot of Hushpuppies have had to endure emotionally. Hushpuppy is fictional but her experiences, strengths, and vulnerabilities are very real.
I applaud this beautiful film and hope you will check it out. If you have seen it already please tell me what you think. Did it speak to you in a special way? Did you hate it? I loved the film, but I am internally conflicted with the fact that I would love to see more films with little brown girls shown in a different way. Did Hushpuppy's appearance bother you in any way? Please share your thoughts.