It seems scores of folks (from the First Lady on) have been talking up this drama mixed with fantasy. Beasts of the Southern Wild has been nominated for four Oscars (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and–the youngest nominee so far for–Best Actress). Set in a remote corner of the Louisiana bayou, this is the story of
Hushpuppy, played with feral eloquence by 6-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis. When not warming up cat food for dinner—lighting the stove with a blowtorch!—the dandelion-haired heroine ministers to her pig, chickens and rough-but-loving father, Wink (Dwight Henry—a New Orleans baker by trade), who’s grievously ill.
Alone in her tumbledown trailer, Hushpuppy ponders the nature of time and her place in the cosmos. “The whole universe depends on everything fittin’ together just right,” she says. Her fervent imagination fills the screen with magic, from the motes glowing in the air to visions of aurochs, fearsome prehistoric behemoths that will reclaim the earth as ice caps melt. She’s convinced that animals and her absent mother—who she’s told “swam away” years earlier—talk to her, sometimes in code.
Zeitlin auditioned several thousand Gulf Coast girls for the role of Hushpuppy, initially conceived as age 9 to 12. “Of the 20 callbacks, half were white,” he recalls. Wallis, who’s black, showed up “looking like a warrior. She wasn’t exactly how we had imagined the character, but her spirit was the spirit of the movie.”
Though Wallis had never acted before, she handled direction and her director like an old pro. After one take, Zeitlin sidled up to her and said, “That was good. I just need a little more subtlety.” Wallis put him in his place. “I said, ‘I’m 6 years old!’” she recalls. “‘Do you really think I know what subtlety means? Come on! Gimme a kid word!’”
(“How Behn Zeitlin Made Beasts of the Southern Wild,” Franz Lidz, Smithsonian Magazine) Read more: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/How-Benh-Zeitlin-Made-Beasts-of-the-Southern-Wild-179986201.html#ixzz2KzJU9lUl