"Beasts of the Southern Wild": An Affective Review

February 23, 2013
By

imgres-1I have a confession:  I didn’t like Beasts of the Southern Wild.  And I don’t fully understand why. Don’t get me wrong; there were a number of wonderful facets to the movie. The beautifully textured cinematography and score were, at times, literally breathtaking. Quvenzhané Wallis’s portrayal of Hushpuppy was both perfectly quiet and understatedly fierce (she is now the youngest Academy Award Best Actress nominee ever). The film bravely delved into uncomfortable depths of the contradictory and conflicted relationship one can have with a parent, especially when confronted with the inevitable loss of that parent – in this case, Hushpuppy’s simultaneous terror of and unyielding love for her father, Wink.  But, in spite of all these positives, something just didn’t feel right.

My affective response to the movie was similar to feelings I get when looking at certain photographs by Diane Arbus or Robert Mapplethorpe – uncomfortable at whether what is being captured/portrayed is exploitative or respectful. Yes, their art is meant to make the viewer uneasy, but I can never decide if it is for the right reasons. Moreover, Beasts of the Southern Wild felt like ethnography to me. In this regard, it seemed to devolve into a kind of poverty porn akin to Kathleen Stewart’s A Space on the Side of the Road – an ethnographic field study with noble intentions attempting to redefine the spaces in which poor, rural communities exist in an American framework, but in my opinion, just keeping those same communities positioned as the strange, freaky, idiosyncratic Other. What’s worse here is that Beasts of the Southern Wild plays out as a kind of poverty porn put into black face, with no actual mention of blackness or race as a presence. In other words, blackness is always visually present on screen, but is never consciously dealt with as subject matter. So, blackness is physical matter in the film, but does blackness matter?

imgresI realize I am asking more questions than I am answering but that is exactly what the film did for me. What does Beasts of the Southern Wild really say to its audience? Does it create a fantasy world where differences are no longer marked and/or remarked upon (at least from within the same socio-economic group)? Or does it solidify a sense that blackness and race can only be welcomed and celebrated (in Hollywood and everywhere else) when visually present – enough to be included – but mute(d)?

All I know is that Beasts of the Southern Wild pointed me toward the things that don’t feel right. I still don’t like the film. But it did show me that the things that don’t feel right are exactly the right things to be looking to. In a movie. In society. In our world.

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20 Responses to "Beasts of the Southern Wild": An Affective Review

  1. Janice Graham on February 23, 2013 at 11:45 am

    I was very moved by your the vagueness of your impression on the film. I too counted multiple segments of thought within the movie. I watched the film with my 11 year old grandson and he seemed to focus on the father-daughter relationship and the fierce fantasy life analogies going on in Hushpuppy’s life. He really got, how she merged the lessons of a Mother gone, and the distorted parenting of Father in love and madness. I love this film for giving me such thought about the perseverance of children and a more engaging view of human survival.

    I so enjoyed your review and believe that you saw more than you admit in it. Look at the most critical question you raised, when you wrote, ” a kind of poverty porn put into black face, with no actual mention of blackness or race as a presence. In other words, blackness is always visually present on screen, but is never consciously dealt with as subject matter. So, blackness is physical matter in the film, but does blackness matter?” Ahh, isn’t this a question that all Black people in America ponder everyday ?

  2. Janice Graham on February 23, 2013 at 11:45 am

    I was very moved by your the vagueness of your impression on the film. I too counted multiple segments of thought within the movie. I watched the film with my 11 year old grandson and he seemed to focus on the father-daughter relationship and the fierce fantasy life analogies going on in Hushpuppy’s life. He really got, how she merged the lessons of a Mother gone, and the distorted parenting of Father in love and madness. I love this film for giving me such thought about the perseverance of children and a more engaging view of human survival.

    I so enjoyed your review and believe that you saw more than you admit in it. Look at the most critical question you raised, when you wrote, ” a kind of poverty porn put into black face, with no actual mention of blackness or race as a presence. In other words, blackness is always visually present on screen, but is never consciously dealt with as subject matter. So, blackness is physical matter in the film, but does blackness matter?” Ahh, isn’t this a question that all Black people in America ponder everyday ?

  3. Janice Graham on February 23, 2013 at 11:45 am

    I was very moved by your the vagueness of your impression on the film. I too counted multiple segments of thought within the movie. I watched the film with my 11 year old grandson and he seemed to focus on the father-daughter relationship and the fierce fantasy life analogies going on in Hushpuppy’s life. He really got, how she merged the lessons of a Mother gone, and the distorted parenting of Father in love and madness. I love this film for giving me such thought about the perseverance of children and a more engaging view of human survival.

    I so enjoyed your review and believe that you saw more than you admit in it. Look at the most critical question you raised, when you wrote, ” a kind of poverty porn put into black face, with no actual mention of blackness or race as a presence. In other words, blackness is always visually present on screen, but is never consciously dealt with as subject matter. So, blackness is physical matter in the film, but does blackness matter?” Ahh, isn’t this a question that all Black people in America ponder everyday ?

  4. Janice Graham on February 23, 2013 at 11:45 am

    I was very moved by your the vagueness of your impression on the film. I too counted multiple segments of thought within the movie. I watched the film with my 11 year old grandson and he seemed to focus on the father-daughter relationship and the fierce fantasy life analogies going on in Hushpuppy’s life. He really got, how she merged the lessons of a Mother gone, and the distorted parenting of Father in love and madness. I love this film for giving me such thought about the perseverance of children and a more engaging view of human survival.

    I so enjoyed your review and believe that you saw more than you admit in it. Look at the most critical question you raised, when you wrote, ” a kind of poverty porn put into black face, with no actual mention of blackness or race as a presence. In other words, blackness is always visually present on screen, but is never consciously dealt with as subject matter. So, blackness is physical matter in the film, but does blackness matter?” Ahh, isn’t this a question that all Black people in America ponder everyday ?

  5. Maria Maday on February 23, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    This is a film about class, not race. Class trumps race in this film.

  6. Maria Maday on February 23, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    This is a film about class, not race. Class trumps race in this film.

  7. Maria Maday on February 23, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    This is a film about class, not race. Class trumps race in this film.

  8. Maria Maday on February 23, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    This is a film about class, not race. Class trumps race in this film.

  9. TonyaA on February 23, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    This film was a lesson in self-sufficiency, in my humble opinion. The Father, whether one sees him as abusvice, dysfunctional, loving or motivated, made sure his daughter didn’t wait on others to care for her. He knew that Hushpuppy: poor, Black and female, would have a tough row to hoe, and he wanted to prepare her for it. Hushpuppy’s Mother left for…what? Because she wanted more than what was available to her in the Bathtub? (I still think her Mom was the cook in that restaurant). Anywho…the Community of Bathtub embodied the notion of the village taking care of each other.

  10. TonyaA on February 23, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    This film was a lesson in self-sufficiency, in my humble opinion. The Father, whether one sees him as abusvice, dysfunctional, loving or motivated, made sure his daughter didn’t wait on others to care for her. He knew that Hushpuppy: poor, Black and female, would have a tough row to hoe, and he wanted to prepare her for it. Hushpuppy’s Mother left for…what? Because she wanted more than what was available to her in the Bathtub? (I still think her Mom was the cook in that restaurant). Anywho…the Community of Bathtub embodied the notion of the village taking care of each other.

  11. TonyaA on February 23, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    This film was a lesson in self-sufficiency, in my humble opinion. The Father, whether one sees him as abusvice, dysfunctional, loving or motivated, made sure his daughter didn’t wait on others to care for her. He knew that Hushpuppy: poor, Black and female, would have a tough row to hoe, and he wanted to prepare her for it. Hushpuppy’s Mother left for…what? Because she wanted more than what was available to her in the Bathtub? (I still think her Mom was the cook in that restaurant). Anywho…the Community of Bathtub embodied the notion of the village taking care of each other.

  12. TonyaA on February 23, 2013 at 4:15 pm

    This film was a lesson in self-sufficiency, in my humble opinion. The Father, whether one sees him as abusvice, dysfunctional, loving or motivated, made sure his daughter didn’t wait on others to care for her. He knew that Hushpuppy: poor, Black and female, would have a tough row to hoe, and he wanted to prepare her for it. Hushpuppy’s Mother left for…what? Because she wanted more than what was available to her in the Bathtub? (I still think her Mom was the cook in that restaurant). Anywho…the Community of Bathtub embodied the notion of the village taking care of each other.

  13. Ann on February 23, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Kevin – You might want to read this to help make sense of your unease:
    http://newblackman.blogspot.com/2012/09/bell-hooks-no-love-in-wild.html
    hooks makes some very important observations, I think.

  14. Ann on February 23, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Kevin – You might want to read this to help make sense of your unease:
    http://newblackman.blogspot.com/2012/09/bell-hooks-no-love-in-wild.html
    hooks makes some very important observations, I think.

  15. Ann on February 23, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Kevin – You might want to read this to help make sense of your unease:
    http://newblackman.blogspot.com/2012/09/bell-hooks-no-love-in-wild.html
    hooks makes some very important observations, I think.

  16. Ann on February 23, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    Kevin – You might want to read this to help make sense of your unease:
    http://newblackman.blogspot.com/2012/09/bell-hooks-no-love-in-wild.html
    hooks makes some very important observations, I think.

  17. PCB on February 25, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    I agree with Maria that this is a film about class and economics. But it’s also an interesting example of female characterisation. I’ve written a blog – who would win in a feminist fist-fight: Hushpuppy or Miss Moneypenny? broadsonfilm.wordpress.com

  18. PCB on February 25, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    I agree with Maria that this is a film about class and economics. But it’s also an interesting example of female characterisation. I’ve written a blog – who would win in a feminist fist-fight: Hushpuppy or Miss Moneypenny? broadsonfilm.wordpress.com

  19. PCB on February 25, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    I agree with Maria that this is a film about class and economics. But it’s also an interesting example of female characterisation. I’ve written a blog – who would win in a feminist fist-fight: Hushpuppy or Miss Moneypenny? broadsonfilm.wordpress.com

  20. PCB on February 25, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    I agree with Maria that this is a film about class and economics. But it’s also an interesting example of female characterisation. I’ve written a blog – who would win in a feminist fist-fight: Hushpuppy or Miss Moneypenny? broadsonfilm.wordpress.com

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