Revisiting: Beasts of the Southern Wild

Revisiting things written about the film Beasts of the Southern Wild, released June 2012 and starring Quvenzhané Wallis:

Christina Sharpe Beasts of the Southern Wild – The Romance of Precarity I | Social Text

“It may be that “[d]isaster, survival and the physical deprivation that comes with it can, it is suggested, generate meaningful alternatives.” But at least part of the disaster on view here is everyday black life lived in the wake of slavery and neither this film nor many of its viewers actually account for that life as disastrous.
“If one sees this film primarily as a way to visualize resistance to climate disaster then that requires that one have no desire to alleviate Hushpuppy’s devastation; have no desire to care for a child who says, “I can count the times I been lifted on two fingers.”  And in that absence of care the film reveals the structural antagonism to be feeling for the figure of the black.  The film needs black bodies because how else could incipient sexual and other violence, the violence of extreme poverty, flooding, the violence of a six-year old girl child living alone in her own ramshackle house with no mother or father, be inspiring and not tragic?  How else could it “just be” with no backstory, no explanation? (We should think about casting choices for Beast and Precious next to those made in films like Winter’s Bone and Bastard Out of Carolina to see the difference that race makes.)
“How does a little black girl child orphaned and abandoned become a vision for climate resistance for so many people who watched the film?  It is precisely this kind of misprision, this not feeling or seeing, that subtends  an event like the death of Glenda Moore’s sons during Hurricane Sandy.  Riffing on Invisible Man, optic white does not see your plight.”
Jayne Brown, Beasts of the Southern Wild – The Romance of Precarity II | Social Text

“The film calls this poverty freedom. But I don’t recognize this freedom. Their existence isn’t active or sustainable. It is bleak, grim and grimy, the characters’ self-destructive forms of coping painfully insufficient. This is no maroon society, nor is it like any community of generationally poor people in the US or the global south I have ever seen. Instead the film recapitulates the continuing currency of black suffering, and acts as a kind of “crisis porn,” showing how black pain is erotically charged.

“Hushpuppy, in her grime-covered and half-naked childlike innocence, embodies the Western fantasy of the primitive. With her whimsical exploration of the world, her little head tipped to one side as she listens to the heart of chick, or a hog, or her father, she narrates for us the wisdom of the ages, delivering the primitive’s message to mankind. “The whole universe depends on everything fitting together just right,” is her refrain throughout the film. “If one piece is busted, the entire universe will get busted,” she warns. With her innate understanding of the beauty, precarity and cruelty of nature, Hushpuppy is able to tame the Aurochs. “‘Beasts’ is film as natural mystery museum,” reads a review, and I did feel as if I were standing before a panorama of early man and mammoth. [2] This sense of the noble savage is clearly marked by Hushpuppy. “If daddy kill me, I ain’t gonna be forgotten. I’m recording my story for scientists in the future,” she says.”

And a thing I wrote, once upon a time, as Kismet Nuñez – On Fantasy and Feeling (Regarding #Beasts of the Southern Wild) | The AntiJemima Life


“Surviving shouldn’t feel tasty going down or be an end in and of itself.  In Pariah, Alike’s survival is a triumph because it is clear she is Going On.  In Beasts, we are meant to see survival as a triumph but also a conclusion.

“This is not magical realism. Magical realism, at its heart, is steeped in the mysticism of individuals in the present asking questions of people in the past who are never really gone. It is having the door to the spirit world open a crack and hearing the whisper of ancestors’ voices through the gap.

“And this is not fantasy to me. The cornerstone of fantasy is world-building. Ask any nerd worth their salt and they will tell you the devil is in the details of the place you are creating. The most powerful fantasy worlds are the ones you cannot forget because the familial, the familiar, and the political are so intricate and normal.

“I think Wallis’s performance is one that should not be missed and hope everyone sees the movie. But I also want us to be critical when we watch it. And I needed more. Beasts is tailor-made for several Oscar nominations, what with the whisper of Katrina, the brilliant young actor, the fantasy elements, the tearful goodbyes, and more. But the same recipe that makes it work on so many audiences, so easily, may very well just be the latest and greatest in a long line of representations meant to numb us to the very complicated dynamics of race, place, and space at work in our own everyday. We should enjoy Beasts and cheer for Hushpuppy and Wallis, but we also need to see what needs be seen.”



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