Essays

Once There Was a Hushpuppy, Once There Was a Gatsby: African American Representation in Contemporary American Film

By Sarah Leventer

Beasts of the Southern Wild remains a critical darling thanks in no small part to its “magical realist” aesthetic and its tough young star, Hushpuppy (Quvenzhané Wallis). But, cultural critic bell hooks sees “No Love in the Wild,” arguing that the “magical” focus of the film deflects attention away from the pornography of violence at its center. Understanding the gulf between these reactions, and what they suggest about the current media landscape, means placing Beasts into the two artistic contexts it draws from—Southern artmaking, (encompassing artists as wide-ranging as Zora Neale Hurston, Eudora Welty, and Charles Burnett) and American mainstream filmmaking. This dual history illuminates the film’s power, problems, and reception. Continued.