Beasts of the Southern Wild has been the only movie to make me wail like a newborn. This was not a sad, defeated wail. It was a cry of pure joy. I loved this movie and I care deeply about whether or not it wins an Academy Award tonight, how far its young actress, Quvenzhane Wallis, will go in her career, and how it’s perceived by those from NOLA who experienced Hurricane Katrina firsthand. Conversely, I don’t like that I loved it within the context of all things heirarchical, and all the other isms that exist in the world.
Here’s why: New Orleans and Haiti are two extremely spiritually charged Vodou centers. The winds in these two places are Vodou’s breath. Two disasters have claimed bodies here; one with raging wind and water (Hurricane Katrina), the other with a parting earth (1.12.10 earthquake).
Some folks were very critical of Beasts, with good reason. And sharp reasoning and critical thinking skills were required to peel away at Beasts of the Southern Wild to get to the meat and bones of what this movie was really conveying.
Who were the beasts? The residents of Bathtub? Hushpuppy and little wild-haired, underfed, and abandoned children like her? The pre-historical aurochs breaking past the icy barriers of time to take revenge on the lowest rung on the human hierarchy?
Initially, for me, the beasts were every dark, evil thing that has ever walked the earth—in animal form, human form, spirit form, in the form of ideas—this monstrous thing that has preyed on the least amongst us since the dawn of time. I’m a poet. I live for metaphors and symbolic truth. I bend reason, twist and turn it sometimes, to fit it into a deeper meaning.
Hushpuppy was able to face this evil that threatened her life and the life of those she loved. She literally looked it in the eye and it bowed to her. This was when I bawled. Here was this character—a little girl, black, poor, the ultimate underdog—and here was this primordial creature come back to life to wreak havoc on the planet (metaphor for climate change, I guess), and it bowed to her. She looked it in the eye and was like get-out-my-way-cause-I’ve-got-to-take-care-of-mine. Climate change and racism and oppression and poverty and corporate greed be damned. She still had to LIVE. There was no room for fear. There was no room for tears. (“The hyper-masculinity of the black girl-child,” someone wrote.)
I’ve never been to Cite Soleil or La Saline, Haiti. There are others all over the world. What the media calls squalors, dumps, slums.
Hunger. To not see the possibility of a meal around the bend of tomorrow is maddening. There’s no room for reasoning here. The daily labor of literally providing a home, gathering scraps of discarded things, finding and making food, a living, is taxing on the body. Tender moments of affection seep through the cracks like dripping rain. Abandonment is “gone to look for work, to find food”.
On Wild Things
Beasts of a Haitian Wild
Me. Les Cayes, Haiti. Wild, yes. But home within my village, loved and cared for. I remember wilderness. Beasts reminded me of that place, buried in my memory, and my mother’s perhaps, of hurricane winds and nothing but mangos for weeks in rural Haiti. And a village.
Ultimately, who controls these stories? Who wields these mythologies out into our collective dream psyches? How are other narratives being exalted so that there is a balance of art and truth? We are so starved for images that (initially) seem to present us in a powerful and magical light, that we will swallow whole whatever is fed to us.