Black Girl Going Places: Quvenzhané Wallis

July 25, 2012  |  

Quite often, I’ll be engaged in some type of  small talk and someone will ask me, “So, how do you like living in New York?” My answer is usually some variant of the following. “I love it. There’s always something to see or do there.” As a child who was raised in the Midwest and went to college in the Midwest, I  always want to take full advantage of the art scene in the city. So when my friend asked me if I wanted to see this independent film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, I agreed. Sure, I hadn’t seen previews for the movie and didn’t know any of the people starring in it. But my friend mentioned something about the main characters being black.  Having lived in places where movies featuring people of color were frequently left out of the local theaters, I still jump at the chance to support black people on screen.

Once my friend eventually shared the trailer with me and I saw the adorable, seemingly bright little girl, running around sporting a dirty shirt and an unkempt afro, that was all the convincing I needed.

(Here’s the trailer below so you can see what I saw and eventually support if you feel so inclined.)

Though, I could tell from the preview that this was no ordinary little girl, Quvenzhané Wallis’ performance as “Hush Puppy” in the film blew me away. Now before you get tripped up on the name, phonetically, it’s pronounced Qua Van Jah Nay. (She told Jay Leno that the Zhané part means fairy in Swahili.) Her portrayal was convincing, charismatic, intelligent and just flat out surprising for a girl who was only 5 years old when she was selected to carry this entire movie on her back. And not just a simple, fluffy, kid movie. This film, about a strained father-daughter relationship and surviving in harsh conditions, is heavy. So today, when I stumbled across an article from Indie Wire’s Shadow and Act page, asking “What’s Next for Quvenzhané Wallis?” I had to click on it. They shared my excitement about Quvenzhané’s performance, calling her “a miniature force of nature.” They also reported that she’s going to be in another short, independent film called Boneshaker.

After reading that article I had to know a little bit more about this girl. So I googled her name and came across a video thumbnail of her holding what looked like a coffee cup. Thinking, this little girl is too much, I clicked to see what she was saying. Now, you know sometimes when you speak to children, it can either be really great like “Kids Say the Darndest Things” or virtually painful like when Arsensio interviewed the Olsen twins. I was happy to find that Quvenzhané was just as captivating off the screen as she was on. In that particular video she and interviewer spoke mostly about food as she sipped hot chocolate. Then she went on to share how she had input in selecting that actor who would who eventually play her father. She rejected one guy because she said she “just didn’t feel comfortable with him.” Well! Kids who are not only intelligent but able to verbally express their intellect and subsequent wit always astound me. I had to see more.

I stumbled across an interview where Quvenzhané was explaining how she got the role. And the story is fascinating. Even though the audition was for 6-9 year-olds, and she was only five at the time, she and her mother snuck in and the little one killed it. She told one (special) interviewer that in the audition she was fearless and active because that’s how her character was in the film.

When they called back to offer her the role, they said they were looking for “Naysie.” Her mom, who answered the phone said, “Oh, you must be looking for Quvenzhané.” Of course they didn’t recognize that name and were about to hang up. But her mother caught them just in time and told them oh she must have told you Naysie. And the rest is history. That little five year old beat out 3,500 other kids and if you see the movie you’ll understand why. As she told the interviewer, “If anybody calls Quvenzhané, I know they’re calling me. Because that’s one of a kind.”

You sure are one of a kind, girl. And trust, they’ll definitely be calling.

Watch this little one in action in the interview below. There’s a surprise, if you watch it in its entirety.

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