Beasts of the Southern Wild

Reactions to Beasts of the Southern Wild

There are some common threads emerging in how audiences are responding to and interpreting Beasts of the Southern Wild, but it also seems to hit everyone a little bit differently.

We’ve begun compiling reactions and analysis from thinkers, bloggers, academics, and regular folks and some of what we’ve come across is featured below. We invite you to read, reflect, and join in the discussion! Please let us know by adding a comment if there’s a reference or  a thought you’d like to throw into the ring. We’ll keep adding to this post as our collection grows.

Hushpuppy is small, but she has agency and power. Beasts of the Southern Wild presents a new hero of the monomyth, one that we’re not used to seeing in Southern literature — a girl of color who grows into a mighty (and mighty small) creature, despite the challenges of natural disasters, familial tragedy and mythical beasts. The scale of her story is epic, and epicly Southern, an attempt to keep the rest of the world from advancing on a place she loves and destroying it.

— Brooke Hatfield’s Small Mythologies in Canonball, a blog about feminist reading and writing.


“For the poor student or the minority student living in a police state, we ignore the signs of PTSD that are obvious and present, for that would require us speaking out against a system that has sustained our employ. These kids are our “beasts” of the educational wild. But it is not our job to tame them, because they do not need to be tamed. They require love and understanding. They don’t need us to explain their existence in ways that are palatable, when their personal daily experiences are unpalatable. They need to be heard in way they speak- without translation for our comfort.”

– Read Worokya Duncan’s article “Beasts of the Educational Wild” here.


“In fact, that’s the message that all the stalwarts in The Bathtub—the black ones and the white ones—want to convey, that not only do all of us have an assigned place in the universe but that the way we were made is the way we’re supposed to be. In this cosmology, levees are unnatural. Flood protection leads to alienation. We may obtain some temporary safety when we wall ourselves off from nature’s ebb and flow, but it costs us our connection to the planet. And losing that connection is worse than any storm.”

— Jarvis DeBerry’s piece, An Unexpected, Enduring Lesson From ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’, published in Color Lines.


The American Bible Society responded with a study guide to prompt discussion about our place in the universe and our intention in life.  It’s available for download here.

 [There is a] national and international fascination with Louisiana’s disaster streak. Had 1,836 people (1,577 in Louisiana) not died during Hurricane Katrina and had the population of New Orleans not decreased by almost 30 percent (a majority African American), there would be no Beasts of the Southern Wild. Also, by coincidence, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil blowout occurred on the first day of shooting the film in April of 2010… Beasts depicts coastal Louisiana’s environmental and cultural endangerment in ways that transcend scientific studies and government policies, while at the same time reaching national and international audiences…My fear, however, is that those who watch Beasts of the Southern Wild will get lost in the wonder and magic and spirit of the Bathtub; that they will rest in the film’s beauty instead of being jolted by the reality that, as Hushpuppy says, “Sometimes you can break something so bad, that it can’t get put back together.”

Brewing Culture released a Beasts of the Southern Wild Conversation Guide that poses questions about struggle, community, and friendship.  It’s available for download here.
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  1. Marion Campbell

    This movie represented for me a father’s love for his daughter and how to face “fear and death” right in the eye. This particular “Storm” that arose in the Bathtub was the coming storm that Hushpuppy had to face; which was the death of her father. The “Beasts” represented the fear and death that Hushpuppy had to face in order for her to go on in life. Her mother was dead and now her father is dying. Even though “Wink” was tough but you could still see the love he had for her daughter. That for me was so breathtaking because so many “little girls” go through life without any interaction from their father’s. I cried. Even to this day when I think about the certain parts of the movie I tear up because it was so real to me. I’m hoping for an Oscar nomination and win for this movie.

    Jul 30, 2012 at 8:30 pm | Permalink
  2. chad mclewin

    i love the interplay between the fierce independence that will take no handout and the echoed call that every part of the universe is connected.

    Jul 30, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Permalink
  3. The lessons we learned from the film are from Hushpuppy. She shows us what it takes to be a survivor. We created a gallery of what she’s taught us:

    Jul 30, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Permalink
  4. Pamela Brouker

    He transformed me, the father, as the one who saves the child. Living ripe in independent thinking. In a not perfect and vengeful world. I was brought into the reality and saw the troubling outsiders. Grit, power and undergirth, in a world that left them for nothing, long ago.

    Jul 30, 2012 at 11:47 pm | Permalink
  5. I am overwhelmed by the exquisite and authentic mythical worlds and heroes who persevere within this ever-tiltingly-tainted society of whoever dies with the most toys and facebook friends – WINS! It heartens me to see this film and know that myth and the hero’s journey are alive and well today as they always have been. Timeless. The very nature of how the film was constructed to accost your senses with sound, imagery, movement and content, speaks to all that is raw and unshielded; all that remains wild living buried deep within our safely pampered beings. I am grateful beyond measure for the upbringing I experienced, the love I was given, the food, the home, the opportunities. What saddens me is the technologically, politically, money-driven shield that has been pulled down tight over us in this “free society” to “protect” us from experiencing anything real. We don’t want to feel anything unpleasant or challenging, to our bodies or our minds, and thereby have created a social structure that will enable us to exist in such a manner (at least those of us who can afford it). Yet all these layers of “protection” become stone bricks in a wall that separate us from each other, and ultimately, from our own inner wisdom. When Hushpuppy pulls the rip line that ignites the explosion and blasts through the levy, she destroys that wall, and reveals what lives on the other side. Small in stature, she is larger than life. The image of her confronting the huge mythic beasts at the end of the story is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I am an artist. I explore the world as the great mythical adventure that it is; visually interpreting the magical encounters that emerge all around me and fuel my existence. I live in the world of Joseph Campbell. I loved this film…and all the layers of meaning and depth woven within its richly textured tapestry. Thank you…for sharing Hushpuppy and her world, which is our world.

    Jul 31, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Permalink
  6. My daughter and I found this film extremely difficult to sit through, although extremely rewarding, also. We had many different reactions, one of which was to the state of filth and chaos all the residents lived in, living situations that were both dangerous and unhygienic, as were they characters. In a situation like this it would not naturally follow that this would be the case, and we talked about why these mighty individuals who refused to be drawn into the system would nevertheless live in such fashion, which can’t have been fulfilling, comfortable or uplifting for any of them, and no matter how poor they were, it wasn’t necessary. The answer, of course: alcohol. After living and working in several indigenous communities, one finds exactly this: a people so strong, so unique and loving, so mighty, so unwilling to be bought….yet who end up not quite making their true statement because addiction drags them away from a clear vision of their mission. We see it in the homeless in cities, in all kinds of communities where there are those who refuse to “play the game”, the meaning gets diffused and the strength of conviction is weakened by the altered consciousness and its resulting and chronically renewed wounding…. This is not a moral judgment: addiction is a tragedy, a spiritual emergency, and it is a way to bear the unbearable…..yet, in the end, it wins when another victory with more meaning could have been possible–and should have been. But in the end, addiction is so often a necessary part of the hero’s journey, and you could see in Hushpuppy’s wonderful acting that she saw, she knew….and so did the filmakers want the audience to know. Another Indy film that depicts this also very well is “Smoke Signals.”

    Jul 31, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Permalink
  7. Chris Raymond

    I looked at my watch. I wanted this movie to be over! Not for the usual reasons but because it was so affecting. The experience so intense and profoundly moving that it seared my heart. “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is almost too much beauty and pain to bare all at once. Stunning. Exquisite.

    Aug 1, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Permalink
  8. Stacy Atkinson

    At the introduction of Hushpuppy and the Bathtub my heart was pounding in my chest and it did so until the film concluded. As the lights came on in the theater and the credits rolled, I stayed, unmoved because I was so moved. Others did the same. All connected by the beauty of this movie that is beyond the regular cinema experience, this is a spiritual experience. Since then, I have had several beasting moments, both personal and shared with friends who have the same connection as I do to this film. We’ve cracked crab at backyard Beasts. The soundtrack is a must for the open road, played painfully loud so you can feel the drum in your gut and the strings in your veins. This film, this experience, is a rare gift all should embrace.

    Aug 2, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Permalink
  9. When/Is this movie coming to Melbourne, FL?

    Aug 3, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Permalink
  10. As a resident of a bayou community below Houma, LA, who has experienced mandatory evacuations for over 30 years now, I can relate to this and more in the poignant film. For me, it is about a “sense of place”. Home is home, no matter where it may be. And when things are going wrong, like a father dying, home is where one wants to be. Hush Puppy knew that she had to get her daddy home, and her mother (?) sending her off with the fried alligator was just the final confirmation she needed that home is home, no matter what. Folks who don’t live in the proverbial “Bathtub”, don’t really understand our connection to the place where we live and (many of us) make our living. There is a deep and abiding connection between bayou people and the bayou, marshes, and swamps. Thank you for communicating that so beautifully. Sincerely, Capt .Wendy Billiot (Bayou Woman)

    Aug 4, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink
  11. Ceresta

    I have been advocating seeing this movie far and wide. To give folks an example why, please read and view below. Start by viewing the Leno interview with the actress who starred in the film.
    One of the corporate reform efforts in education – Common Core Standards – is to replace fiction narrative with more non-fiction text. Many of those of us who teach literature find this appalling. Can a non-fiction article on poverty in the La. Bayou teach more lessons or generate more rich discussion than this wonderful film? As a teacher, I say hell to the no! Love this movie!!!!
    M: She’s very precocious and will probably have a long and fruitful acting career.
    Like Leno said – the movie itself is hard to describe. I wouldn’t characterize it as magical though – which was his characterization. the clip he used was somewhat magical – but the film itself portrayed squalor, filth, waste, poverty, alcoholism, lost faith, hopelessness – no desire to be more and to strive to achieve. Valerie said that it depicted those who were left behind but what the film depicted to me and I preface to me, those who didn’t want anything else and didn’t want more – expectations were limited (the father wanted others to want what he wanted to not leave and to stay behind – he felt lost when he thought the others had left – misery loves company – that’s what I saw)- and sorrows were drowned in the bottle. It was interesting but definitely not my cup of tea. But we have to learn to accept one another’s preferences and not be judgmental and to appreciate it for what it is (differences in likes and dislikes) and respect one another’s points of view. I am glad you guys enjoyed it.
    I don’t share your opinion. I really couldn’t wait for it to be over – I was done. C – regarding “this being the best movie you have ever seen – I definitely don’t agree with that but like I said, I respect your opinion.
    I definitely would not go to see it a second time”. I would however recommend others to see it – just because of the actors and their presence. The plot was weak to me and left a lot to be desired. In my opinion, it could have been shot in 30 minutes vice 1.5 hours. – 30 minutes would have been more than enough for me. That’s why I asked when we were discussing – what was the purpose. I heard what you guys said but to me – it lacked purpose and the plot was weak. I appreciate film art for the sake of art – however, I relish and enjoy a good plot – that was lacking – again, in my opinion.
    C: Understandable – that movie is an English teacher’s dream. Some of the archetypal aspects, the use of symbol, the use of magical realism style of narration are all elements that we teach and expect students to identify and interpret. Even the technical elements of voice-over, hand held camera, various angles to depict different thematic nuances make it a rich text for technical analysis as well. It is a movie rich in analysis elements and is the perfect tool for teaching the aforementioned literary/narrative devices.
    I also think it is a movie that leaves an impression long after one leaves the theater. It begs for reflection and discussion. My one teacher friend said she hated it because that sort of social dysfunction was too much a part of her childhood/teen-age experience growing up in the hood of Gary, Indiana. She was very disturbed by the “squalor, filth, waste, poverty, alcoholism, lost faith, hopelessness – no desire to be more and to strive to achieve.”
    Call me crazy, but I found a beauty in their desire to live by their own standard, very close to nature and with an understanding of nature and basic survival and acceptance of death that is foreign to most of us. What on the surface appeared to be squalor and filth was a closeness to the essence of God’s nature to me. “We is who the earth is for.” I loved that line. I also loved the way it showed the earth – its natural beauty (the full moon sitting between two hills over the water), its natural ugliness (the dead animal with the dead fetuses), the innocent child that listens to animals to hear what they were communicating to her – all beautiful to me and so different from the usual movie fare – beautiful made-up women, handsome men, material objects, sound and light shows, fancy cars, nice homes. Can’t wait to see it again!!!!
    V: hmmm… I respect your view M but I can’t help but wonder if it is not a bit narrow in its scope. No, I did not see the move as magical and I definitely did not see the point of the metaphorical beasts–I think I would have picked up that symbolism without the symbol.
    For me the movie told the type of story that this elitist society wants to close its eyes too. There are people who live in the “back” or in the “under” who know nothing else. It is not a question of wanting more……If your existence does not include the conveniences that you and I take for granted (television, running water, a “home”, then what is your basis for wanting more? The characters in the story were real to me because I have seen them. I grew up in the south in the country. I am reminded of a family that lived in a three room shack, the mother, the father and all 21 children. They were sharecroppers and I do not recall that any of them (no I do recall one) made it out of school. Dreaming is something that we do when a light is shone in our heart that allows us to peak out of the darkness. Elitism is what causes us to snub our nose at those who may have not enjoyed the luxury of the dream. Compassion is what enables us to understand that others may not have been so fortunate and Blessed.
    The history that I’ve read on the bayou area makes it clear to me that under-civilizations actually do exist. Yes, right here in the great U S of A. I suppose I am curious as to what actually constitutes a better life. I mean I have modern conveniences as I am sure you do, but it is the life that we are accustomed to. As to whether that makes the life better—I say we all play the hand that we are dealt. Just as you probably go kicking and screaming to be jerked away from the life you know, how do you question those who went kicking and screaming from the life they knew.
    It was not a pretty movie (I personally prefer comedy). The ugly realities of our society are often hard to take. But I am glad that I saw the movie, if for no other reason than the reminder I’ve had over the past couple of days of the disenfranchised and those who need my love and understanding and certainly not my disgust.
    M: First off, it has nothing to do with elitism or disgust – it is what it is. I grew up in the south right here in DC, fortunately we did have a roof over our heads but very little but family love and the love of God and the desire for the furtherance of one’s education and faith which has been the savings grace for us as a race and as a people. The movie exemplified – beastly behavior – of a relating -to a beast – acting like a beast – and “no” I don’t condone that kind of behavior – no matter what your circumstances.
    I respected the living close to nature and being able to relate to God’s creatures/creation – what I did not and cannot identify with is the acceptance of drowning one’s sorrow in the bottom of the bottle. Alcoholism ran rampant throughout the depiction – to the point where the father offered the 6 year old a drink with him. There was no redeeming value for me in the wallowing in the filth, squalor, dirt and rather inhumane conditions – shooting his gun at the rain – animalistic behavior.
    During the interview with the child actor – Leno asked what was the hardest part for her and she said “the dirt” and he asked her to elaborate. You can color it anyway you want and I said we must learn to not be judgemental and color everyone from our own perspective. You saw beauty, etc. in the movie and saw redeeming value – I did not – we must learn to respect each other’s opinion and what each of us garnered from the movie and not try to say – one is elitist because they had a hard time identifying with a father and community who indulged in their carnal pleasures and in my opinion where not in harmony with their universe.
    I am one with the harmonizing love of God
    When I think of the word harmony, I think of God, for all harmony is of God. It’s found in the ebb and flow of the ocean, a gentle breeze blowing through the trees, the rhythmic beating of my heart. The harmony of God is seen in the movement of a ballet dancer, the colors of a rainbow, the vast expanse of stars in the sky.
    If I feel situations in my life are less than harmonious, I remember the harmony of God is “through all and in all”. I think beyond any situation I am concerned about and remember the harmony of God is at work in everything I see, everything I do, and everything I experience. I relax in an awareness of divine love and feel harmony envelop me and fill my world with space.
    Only one God and father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
    That was what was lacking for me – HARMONY – it was an animalistic existence that I cannot and will not accept or excuse.
    (When the man tried to show the girl the correct way to open a crab – the father grabbed it from her and ripped it apart – and started exclaiming “beast – beast” – and wanted her to exclaim the same adage – what was he teaching her and what was she learning in turn. When she set her house on fire – the whole thing to me was not in sync with earth’s bountiful blessings” and no way you color it for me – I don’t see it.
    I am in awe of Earth’s bountiful blessings –
    God’s loving Spirit permeates every atom of creation. Today I open my eyes and ears to behold the boundless variety and beauty of nature; a snowflake, a grain of sand, a glacier, a fawn, a fish, a colorful chameleon, the loud clap of thunder, the rhythmic lap of a wave against the shore, the inspiring sight of an eagle in flight.
    From the tiniest seed of potential to a tall stand of trees stretching up to the heavens, our blessed earth reveals the infinite expression of the Spirit. Today I breathe the blessing of the wondrous planet. A deep appreciation of all life surges from within as I consider that God is within me and God is everywhere present. The love and life of God are abundantly on display, and I am grateful.
    Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded the harvest.
    I had different expectations – I expected to see one in sync with their universe no matter the hardship and obstacles. An example to live by. I saw no redeeming value in the movie – my opinion.
    C: Hope when my students see the film it elicits this sort of rich discussion. I am going to use it in tandem with Native American mythology. It is perfect to support their understanding of the hero’s journey (Hushpuppy is our heroine who goes on the archetypal journey outside of her realm of familiarity only to return with a knowledge and growth not known prior).
    Also as a second point, the indigenous Iroquois folk teach in a creation myth that shows two twins sent to the earth, one seemingly the good twin and one seemingly the bad twin; however, there is no separation of good and bad – both co-exist in one realm that is perfectly natural and cyclical. I think often Christianity moves us away from that reality with a harsh value judgment. This film moves us toward that reality via wonderful artistic expression. My initial response was to judge the adults. As I was swept up into the movie’s essence, I accepted the reality of their ability to take it as it comes and keep it moving, even accepted the liquor that was so much a part of their existence. As Hushpuppy said, “We is who the earth is for,” be we cooperative, celebratory, inventive, poor, dirty, drunk ,angry enough to set our home on fire, disrespectful enough to “break the universe”, and respectful enough to try to “fix it”. It is all the “we” and the” beast” is a natural part of the essence, no matter how much we try to suppress it. So often the focus in this era of existence is the ” I.”
    One of the corporate reform efforts in education’s Common Core Standards is to replace fiction narrative with more non-fiction text. Many of those of us who teach literature find this appalling. Can a non-fiction article on poverty in the La. Bayou teach more lessons or generate more rich discussion than this wonderful film? As a teacher, I say hell to the no! Love this movie!!!!

    Aug 27, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink
  12. Bridget

    Great acting, cinematography and such a refreshing script & topic. Dwight Henry is going to straight (non-stop) to Hollywood. He’s a wonderful wonderful new actor…& little Ms. Hushpuppy is on her way as well. This was such a nicely told story.

    Aug 30, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Permalink
  13. I loved this film. It’s the first time I’ve seen the bayou/swamp people portrayed in a realistic way.

    This director spent time in these communities to learn about the people there. They live with a view from a different lens.
    They’re unexplored America, and in different scenes the interstate is in the background, the cars whiz by as a symbol of the other America; in others they demonstrate their resourcefulness and their community mind where everyone is accounted for, none forgotten.

    The dialog is real and the accent real as well. It couldn’t be a better in-depth of this previously unknown culture that lives on in the bayous and swamps for centuries.

    Dec 18, 2012 at 4:56 pm | Permalink
  14. Absolutly loved this film! Moving and with a strong message!

    Jan 8, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

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