Throughout history, children have borne the brunt of social and political conflict as they are least capable of protecting themselves. Often times, film directors choose to portray these conflicts through the eyes of this children, and one such film is Beasts of the Southern Wild by Benh Zeitlin. The film features Quvenzhané Wallis who stars as Hushpuppy, a six-year-oldgirl who lives with her father Wink in the ‘Bathtub’, a bayou community cut off from the civilization by a levee. The city is threatened by an epochal hurricane that leaves most of the city devastated and that notwithstanding, the city authorities order a mandatory evacuation of the people. The story depicts the struggles of Hushpuppy and the Bathtub residents through these times. In the following review, the challenges that Hushpuppy and her fellow children face will be delineated and advice offered on how one can change their destinies during such times.
Hushpuppy and ideally all residents of the Bathtub suffer from abject poverty. The residents of the Bathtub live under a perpetual threat of flooding as they live below the levee, an area prone to flooding. Most of them also live in collapsing shacks that have no basic social amenities. In the early scenes, we see residents cooking and consuming meat in unsanitary conditions, but we later cognize that this is normal in the Bathtub. Food is even harder to come by, and all people have to chip in to fend for their families, or at least for themselves. Residents also have no work and spend most of their days drinking and lazing around instead of fending for their kids. As such, most of the residents of the Bathtub are born into poverty, bred into poverty, and will most likely die in poverty.
Another issue that the children face is neglect by their parents. Most of the adults we see in the film including Wink are drunks who spend more of their time worrying and brooding instead of fending for their families. Usually, the children are orphans and we see that Wick is worried that Hushpuppy might become an orphan too after he dies from ill-health. Wick loves Hushpuppy but he is not a good father, he leaves Hushpuppy to eat cat food and he is also abusive. We see Wick smacking Hushpuppy hard across the face and he uses his gun carelessly around her. Hushpuppy’s mother is also absent and we assume that she left her daughter to go into prostitution just like other mothers in the neighborhood. The best thing most of the children in the Bathtub have to a mother is their schoolteacher who always struggles to impart good values on her captivated classroom. Not only do children suffer from neglect, therefore, they also lack role models to show them how to live better.
Another challenge encountered by the children is a neglect by the authorities and the world at large. The bathtub was formed when the industrialized city erected a levee that barred the marginalized residents from accessing basic amenities. The residents do not receive any assistance even when there is an imminent threat of the storm hitting the neighborhood. Surprisingly, the city authorities still fail to act after the storm has devastated the Bathtub and only do so when the residents bomb the levee thus causing a danger to the city itself. The city helps by evacuating Hushpuppy and her people and imprisoning them in a hospital. The storm is also as a result of climate change which may be attributable to the activities of the people in the city. It can thus be said that the children suffer from neglect by the city authorities as well as the society that brings them to life.
Having grown with such hardship, it would be easy for Hushpuppy and her fellow children to imitate the characters of their parents and jump into prostitution and drink, and that would be their demise. To curtail this, however, they should listen to the advice of their teacher and change the world through their behavior. Their teacher always insisted that by learning to take care of the things that are smaller and sweeter than oneself, one would. The kids should thus not only learn to adopt good behaviors but also find something passionate to care for.
The most important advice from the movie and which resonates with everyone, however, is the belief in oneself. Hushpuppy would have been forgiven for letting her circumstances step between her and success but she believes in her abilities and acts upon them. She has a sense of self-respect that makes the thought of being herded in a sports arena depressing. At the end of the film, she triumphantly states, ‘Millions of years from now when kids go to school, they’ll know that once there was a girl called Hushpuppy and she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.’ (Zeitlin).
In conclusion, Beasts of the Southern Wild manages to paint a picture of how children are engulfed into a world of social and political conflict that is not of their making and the struggles they go through to survive. The film also manages to show how these kids are often times more responsible than the adults and society that is supposed to take care of them. It is a film about our failures as a generation to secure the future of our children. The film, however, shows the quality that the world possesses for the children who dare to try and persevere.
Beasts of the Southern Wild. Dir. Benh Zeitlin. Perf. Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2012. Film.