Beasts of the Southern Wild

Saw this film this weekend and was deeply moved. It’s a strange, magical, fantastic, poetic, suspenseful, southern folksy, coming of age story about a little black girl.  There can never be enough of these kinds of stories! 

The film won top awards at Sundance and Cannes and is generating Oscar buzz right now. Here’s a trailer mixed with a bit of interview with the actors, director, and writer.

The movie is brilliantly written, acted, and directed. Every moment of it is layered with tough conflicting emotions that keep it’s audience uncomfortable as they root for the protagonist to survive after storm in an area called “The Bathtub” that satirically reminiscent of the 9th ward in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. This is the kind of movie that will have students writing papers and dissertations for decades in the way of Toni Morrison’s “Beloved”, Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust” and Sapphire’s “Precious”.

If Zora Neale Hurston and Flannery O’Connor sat down to write a screenplay together, I think this is what they would come up with. At first I thought it was going to be a “black” film.  It has 2 main black characters, but whether it’s a “black” film is arguable. It’s not really about black culture or black issues and it doesn’t really feel “black” although it is CERTAINLY a film about a black father and daughter. And even though it’s about a black father and daughter, and acted by two black actors…still… something felt slightly amiss about it being “specifically” rather than generally or topicially about any father and his daughter.

There are 2 other black characters with speaking roles; a sexy hoodoo woman who’s a healer, thinker, and unorthodox schoolteacher and a cool older black man the poor whites call “classy” who always wears glasses, a hat, and dressier clothes than the others. Why the sexy hoodoo teacher and the main black character don’t hook up and start a bit of a romance is a bit perplexing. I suppose the writer wanted to keep the love between the widowed father and daughter.  Still, a little romantic grown-up action between the two would have been nice or at least some attempt and show of why it wouldn’t work between them.

The mixed race ensemble of characters are overwhelmingly poor and risking their lives TOGETHER to save their way of life. So what surfaces more as issues are concepts like “poor”, “working class”, “isolationist/isolationism”, “tribe” and environmental politics rather than ideas focused on “black”, “blackness”, or race. I supposed this is because the writer and director are white.  Even though there were blacks and whites in the film, there was a kind of “colorblindness” that was evident in the writing. I mean this with no judgement at this time. It’s merely an observation and despite this observation, the movie may be the best of films ever made with a little black girl learning to command her own in the world.

 

Website for Beasts of the Southern Wild

http://www.beastsofthesouthernwild.com/

 

 

 

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