Dwight Henry and Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

1. What It's About
Beasts of the Southern Wild is the story of a forgotten but defiant bayou community cut off from the rest of the world by a sprawling levee. There, 6-year-old Hushpuppy exists on the brink of orphanhood. Buoyed by her childish optimism and extraordinary imagination, Hushpuppy believes that the natural world is in balance with the universe until a fierce storm changes her reality. Desperate to repair the structure of her world in order to save her ailing father and sinking home, this tiny hero must learn to survive unstoppable catastrophes of epic proportions.
Quvenzhane Wallis in a makeshift boat from Beasts of the Southern Wild

Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

2. The Origin of the Story
The film is based on the play Juicy and Delicious by Lucy Alibar. Lucy first met director Benh Zeitlin when they were teenagers attending the same playwriting camp. Years later, they co-wrote the screenplay for Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Benh Zeitlin and Quvenzhane Wallis from Beasts of the Southern Wild

Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

3. Who's in the Director's Chair
Beasts of the Southern Wild is 29-year-old director Benh Zeitlin's first feature film. His parents are both urban folklorists and the founders of City Lore, a cultural heritage nonprofit in New York City. Benh, who has lived in New Orleans since 2006, also co-composed the film's score.
Quvenzhane Wallis holding up a chick in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

4. A Breakout Star Is Born
Five-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis had never acted—and couldn't even read—when she auditioned to play Wink's daughter, Hushpuppy. More than 4,000 girls were up for the part when Quvenzhané (Nazie to friends and family) stepped up for the role she was meant to play. Quvenzhané also helped cast Dwight Henry as her father in the film!

Quvenzhané is now 8 years old. Her name comes from the Swahili word for "fairy" or "nymph."
Dwight Henry in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

5. How a Local Baker Became the Leading Man
While casting Beasts of the Southern Wild in their New Orleans office, Benh and his team often satisfied their sweet tooth across the street at the Buttermilk Drop Bakery and Café, an establishment owned by Dwight Henry. Eventually, Benh realized the perfect man to play Wink, a dying father preparing his daughter for life without him, was right in front of him the whole time. Benh and his team convinced Dwight to take on the role despite the fact he had no previous acting experience.

What Dwight did have experience with is fatherhood. He and his wife have five children. Since filming Beasts of Southern Wild, Dwight has been cast in another local New Orleans production—Twelve Years a Slave, starring Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and Paul Giamatti.
Dwight Henry and Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

6. Location, Location, Location
In the film, Hushpuppy and Wink live on an isolated island called the Bathtub. Benh found the embodiment of the Bathtub in the real-life locations of Ponte Au Chien and Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana—a tiny, marshlike island 80 miles southwest of New Orleans that has only one main street. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Benh says local residents invited cast and crew members to stay with them for the duration of the shoot.
Dwight Henry and Quvenzhane Wallis flexing their arms in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

7. The Film's Bright Premiere
Beasts of the Southern Wild made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2012. (It was finished only two days before.)

In an interview with The Huffington Post, Dwight said he saw himself on film for the very first time alongside other audience members at Sundance. The film took home the Grand Jury Prize that day, along with an award for cinematography.
Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

8. Why You Might Hear More About This Movie Again During Awards Season
Since becoming the surprise hit at Sundance, the film has been honored at the Cannes Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Festival, Seattle International Film Festival and the Sydney Film Festival.
Quvenzhane Wallis running with sparklers in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Photo: Courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures

9. Why Oprah Wants to Share It with You
President Barack Obama first recommended the film to Oprah. Oprah saw the movie and knew she wanted to share the "magical" and "spiritual" film with others. "[It's] unlike anything we've seen," she says. "When you see it, you're just going to want to talk to somebody about it. You're going to want to know 'How did they do this?' So tune in to 'Super Soul Sunday' to find out."

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