'Beasts' stars stop at White House on the way to Oscars
05:00 AM, Feb 13, 2013
Maybe it won’t matter to the motion-picture academy that first lady Michelle Obama has so lovingly endorsed the surprise-hit movie Beasts of the Southern Wild, but it can’t hurt.
So it was all good at the White House today when Oscar-nominated cast and crew members of best-picture nominee Beasts stopped by to participate in a Black History Month workshop hosted by Obama to introduce dozens of middle-school and high-school students from Washington and New Orleans to the possibilities of the creative life.
“We are all here today for you,” she exhorted the students assembled in the State Dining Room. “We did this for you. This event is important to me, not only because I love and believe in this film, but also because I deeply love and believe in all of you.”
Her message was echoed by the director, writers, producers and two stars of the film, including Quvenzhané Wallis, 9, the little girl from a small town in Louisiana who never acted a day in her life. Now she’s the youngest Oscar best-actress nominee ever (for playing Hushpuppy in Beasts) on her way to the Academy Awards on Feb. 24 in Los Angeles.
Beasts, a magical-realism tale of a battered bayou community as seen from the eyes of 6-year-old Hushpuppy, is a low-budget production by unknowns, but it impressed enough to make it into the best-picture category as one of nine nominees.
Dressed in a pink sweater, pink pants and shoes, pink flowers in her hair and carrying a pinkish poodle-shaped purse, Wallis charmed the White House just as she’s enchanted all during months of promoting the film at awards ceremonies, red carpets and TV chat shows.
She cheerfully answered one of the most frequently asked questions: How do you pronounce your name? “I might need to make copies,” she joked, waving her name tag. She talked about what she has in common with Hushpuppy and the things she didn’t like about making her first movie.
“She’s a Southern girl and I am too, she loves seafood and I do, too, and she likes animals and nature and everything that includes a mystery,” she said. Her least favorite part: “The mosquitoes and the mud and that one scene where I had to touch that big, hairy pig. I didn’t like that pig.”
Her message to the assembled students: “Keep your head up, never let it down, and believe in God, he’s always there by your side, he’s never going to leave,” she said. Plus, she said, it’s good to have supportive parents and siblings, even the brothers who aggravate you.
She was accompanied by Dwight Henry, the Louisiana baker who plays her father in the movie and who was talked into auditioning by the filmmakers who were set up across the street from his beloved bakery. He’s opening a new bakery in Harlem soon and he’s doing more movie roles. He said his rags-to-Hollywood story is a lesson: “Believe in yourself, and anything can happen,” he told the students.
Benh Zeitlin, the young director who’s also nominated in the best-director category, was there to testify that hard work, good friends and word-of-mouth can take you far, but he’s still amazed at how far.
He said Beasts became a hit because “people told their friends about it. Because of that, it’s all over the world. People watched it and they wanted other people to watch it. Now our community includes the White House,” he said.