This weeks’ movie, Beasts of the Southern Wild, particularly stood out to me out of all the films. In terms of the work I do and the state of the United States right now. It focuses on an African American six year-old, Hushpuppy, who has to take care of herself on a small island watching her father drink himself away. The island is prone to storms and global warming has made those storms particularly worse.
The island inhabitants live on the edge of society and seem to be the most marginalized in the United States. One day, almost everyone evacuates as a storm is about to hit. The ones who stay claim the island as their home and see no reason to leave. However, they also do not have the means to leave. The bed of a truck turned boat is the only vehicle Hushpuppy and her father could use.
For Hushpuppy, the thunder is the glaciers melting. In her mind, the glaciers she learned about from the island’s teacher are causing the loud noises and flooding. The metaphor here is twofold. The power of storms and fear. Secondly, the escalated effect of climate change on natural disasters and events. A phenomenon some adults do not recognize today. The next morning, Hushpuppy and her father wake up to find the island and many of the homes completely submerged.
While riding in their makeshift boat to find any other people who stayed on the island, Hushpuppy’s father catches Hushpuppy eating leaves from a tree. Even as a dying alcoholic and arguably neglectful father, he realizes Hushpuppy is still a child but wants to teach her to live on her own. He tries to teach her how to fish and how she has to be the new king of the island. A subtle theme of this film deals with Hushpuppy’s father obscuring her femininity in “superior” idealizations of masculinity and power.
Most importantly, he wants to make sure that Hushpuppy stays on the island and she knows anything else is ugly. Near the beginning of the film, he makes Hushpuppy call a large factory ugly several times. It reinforces the idea that the island is safe and beautiful while industrialization and the outside world is ugly and untrustworthy. The fictional story represents a very real threat to everyday Americans. Even with the threat of natural disasters and other traumatic events, there are some people who refuse to leave their home or do not have the means to go somewhere else.
Most homes that were destroyed after Hurricane Katrina were ones inhabited by lower-income residents who were less likely to evacuate in the first place. These residents were given “relief” that consisted of housing vouchers that “allowed” them to move to places as far away as Arizona or Utah. Even if their previous homes were going to rebuilt, they could not stay. They were displaced. They had to move jobs, move their children, all of which can be disorienting, trauma inducing, and create distrust in the system of a government that wants to improve and protect public health but does a horrible job of showing it. This movie touches on so many aspects of American society but the main theme is that place matters yet again.