Thursday, July 19, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens, NY

New York, for better or for worse, is my home, the place that shaped who I am, but it's always been difficult for me to be fully attached to it. I'm not one of those types who crow about how it's the greatest city in the world and this and that, though there are, of course, lots of things about this city that are unique and spectacular. Without going into a laundry list of things I hate about it, though (not the point of this post), let me just say that I recognize and appreciate the advantages of living here, but that's still not quite enough for me to embrace it.

I wish it were. When I moved to Columbus, I fully believed it was for good. Circumstances forced me to return to New York, but for a moment, it was possible for me to imagine that Columbus could feel like home one day. Only for a moment, though.

My point is that it's hard (though not impossible) for me to imagine being so devoted to a place that I wouldn't want to live anywhere else, even if I were in danger of losing it. I call New York home, yet I was able to leave it so easily - and would do so again if I had the chance. So "home" must have a different connotation for me. I think perhaps it has to do with self-identity than with a specific location, although in recent years, I've taken it upon myself to re-discover Queens, the part of New York I live in, and as a result, I appreciate it more.

The denizens of "The Bathtub," the fictitious Southern Delta island community in Beasts of the Southern Wild, are threatened by a Hurricane Katrina-like storm, but a small group of them insist on staying and riding it out rather than evacuating to higher ground. These people don't have much to begin with - they live in ramshackle shacks with what looks like the bare minimum amount of modern amenities, yet as we see in the movie, they know how to have a good time and they revel in each other's company. This little world may not seem like much, but for them it's everything, and even in the face of catastrophe, they find a way to adapt, because for them, the alternative - leaving the Bathtub behind - is not an option.

When 9/11 happened, even during the darkest of the early days and weeks, I don't think I ever believed that New York would turn into Belfast or Kosovo - and except for the occasional scare now and then, it hasn't even come close to that. If it did, though, if I honestly believed that staying here was a greater danger than leaving, I feel fairly confident that I'd leave. The hard part would be leaving friends, and possibly family, behind. If spending a year living in another part of the world taught me anything, though, it's that it is possible to have the courage to leave the familiar behind and start over again someplace different.

But that's just me. While the actions of the Bathtub residents strike me as stubborn, even nonsensical on the face of it, Beasts made me understand, to a certain extent, why they choose to stay. No one wants to be forcibly removed from a place they've built their lives around, be it the result of acts of God or acts of man. And even the most dilapidated and run-down of areas can be home for somebody.

I mentioned this before when I wrote about Being Elmo, but it bears repeating: movie theaters in black neighborhoods really need to make more of an effort to screen films like Beasts. One look at the little girl in this movie (who is amazing) and you know all those middle-aged churchgoing women who still have family down home in South Carolina and Mississippi and Alabama will instantly fall in love with her. It's not right that movies like Beasts, Elmo, or Pariah should be limited to the art-house theaters, which - let's be honest - black people do not attend in large numbers. Ava DuVernay and AFFRM have made great strides at changing that, but they can't handle it all - and these days, it's more common to see giant multiplexes devoting a screen or two to an indie film, especially in big cities.

This is a tell-your-friends kinda movie. That's why I'm telling you.


  1. It's strange but I think that people who love NYC didn't grow up here. It is not really a place for children or childhood memories.

  2. Debatable, I think. I certainly have lots of fond childhood memories, but then, being a child, I didn't know anything about the wider world.


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