Once a month we will feature a guest contributor…this month Jamondria
Harris reviews the film “Beasts of the Southern Wild”
Beasts of the southern wild: Post apocalyptic struggle pornography for sympathetic white viewers. By Jamondria Harris
Prior to watching the film, I had avoided all previews. I usually avoid reading reviews before I go see a film, but for this film in particular, I just read tumblr posts that acknowledged it existed and that it featured a young black girl as the protagonist; fundraising snippets. As someone who went to school in Louisiana prior to Katrina, anything about the gulf raises a complex web of fear, nostalgia, anger and grief. I wanted to see the only post-apocalyptic film (ever?) to feature a young black girl. So i went.
There are things in this film that are not about a future that is a decade, or two decades away. There are things in this film that i have seen, that are happening right now. That i have seen, ways of living and being I have seen among people of color, poor black people, and poor ‘whites’ in the deep south. The apocalypse featured in this film began before I was born, and will continue.
“ People will know that there was a girl called Hushpuppy, and that she lived with her daddy in the Bathtub.”
Anti-blackness is at the root of western civilization. There is an evil silence in all cultural discourse around the lived experience of those who are part of the millennia deep african diaspora. What passes for speech, what is heard, is what best upholds whiteness. The most common way to let white people maintain their ignorance about this is through heartwarming tales (if you are white and rich) (or black and deeply colonized) featuring little black girls too young to be a sexual threat to those who don’t quite demonize us from cradle to grave but know about the draw of the ‘other’ once we reach menarche. If that little black girl forms a perfect foil to further articulate the demonization of black men during and after our economic and cultural collapse, so much the better. In the end, the only stimulant left is fear.
Toward the end of the film, Hushpuppy is taken to a floating brothel, full of poor white and black women in sweaty, tattered slips. She is taken into the back to learn how to cook alligator.The camera follows closely the steps the cook takes, barely showing their faces, only the sensual and sometimes disgusting process of making remnants and refuse into nourishment. Images of the deep south as a land of romantic degradation, that put a rosy glow around the traumatized states of being that spring from wave upon wave of colonialism are stock and trade narratives that are repeated over and over in various entertainment mediums. It is an eros of catastrophe, something that can only be experienced in the lives and minds of people whose privilege allows them to consume media about the blood that is shed so that they may live in abundance, raddled by neuroses and comforted by distance and pity.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a tale of abjection; it is the myth of the supernatural strength and endurance of those in poverty and black people in particular set in a future that has already happened. A white, privileged child could not go through the same things that Hushpuppy is put through in the film without there being a cultural uproar about all things related to the sanctity of white, privileged childhood and how this and this and this are the lines that can never be crossed, the things that can never penetrate that shield.
When people laugh at how ‘plucky’ Hushpuppy is or simper over how ‘brave’ the character is they are feeling the pleasure of affirming cultural constructions of black people and poor people that allow atrocity after atrocity to continue to be perpetrated on them. Complicity with deeply embedded systemic oppression is one of the greatest palliatives our popular culture has to offer: ‘Look at how magical they are, despite everything…look at how brave!’.