I also watched Beasts of the Southern Wild last night. It’s a good film, and Quvenzhané Wallis’s performance is as good as you’ve heard it is. The film’s worth watching just to marvel over how someone so young can be so good in a film like this.
But while I liked a lot of what the film did, I thought the fantastical elements confused matters, and created a “blend” of storytelling that left me with an ill feeling. I was happy to find that David Walker put it better than I ever could over at BadAzz Mofo. He didn’t dislike the film, but felt it belonged to a burgeoning genre that he doesn’t like. He calls it “squalor porn”:
The acceptance and popularity of squalor porn speaks to divides within audience spectatorship. American film is largely produced to appeal to the white demographic, and is therefore crafted in a way that triggers an acceptance of cinematic reality within the parameters of the collective willing suspension of disbelief of the white spectator. It is the willingness of the white spectator to accept Middle Earth in Lord of the Rings as a cinematic reality that makes it a successful film. However, it is also the ability of the white spectator to accept the fact that there are no black people in Middle Earth that keeps the film from being scrutinized as a byproduct of racism and colonialist ideologies. And while Lord of the Rings may not seem racist from the perspective of white spectatorship—which is in and of itself merely the mainstream audience—the spectatorship of non-white audiences calls into question the racist overtones of the film. This is not to say that Lord of the Rings is any more or less racist than Beasts of the Southern Wild, though it firmly places both films within cinematic realities that white audiences are willing to accept. In the case of Lord of the Rings, this is a reality where blacks do not exist, and therefore serve no purpose or importance. In Beasts of the Southern Wild, black people exist, but only within the accepted and recognizable reality of squalor porn. Rejecting either of these cinematic realities is indicative of either an inability or an unwillingness to view film through a paradigm of the dominant audience’s ideological perceptions.
So the film isn’t just worth watching for Wallis’s performance, but so that you can fully appreciate Walker’s great piece as well.