The Oscar Underdogs: Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry

Being a fan and annual viewer of the Oscars has its drawbacks. Mainly being that now, months in advance to the actual glitz and glamour of the night, it’s easy to pick who the ultimate winners are going to be. The headline reads “Steven Spielberg teams with Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln biopic” and there and then you know; Daniel Day-Lewis is almost a shoo-in for the win, and the Academy should begin the engraving of his name now. It’s easy, it’s predictable, and it’s boring.

The predictability aside, that doesn’t squash my ability to question the politics and merit that go into the game. Which is why, without a doubt, Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry deserve nominations, and possibly wins, this upcoming awards season.

The politics of the Oscars are often times strategic as well as common. Older men receive nominations after they’ve showcased a wide body of work that leaves them well-respected in the movie community. The best actress nominations typically go to the young ingénue such as Carey Mulligan, Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Williams. The best director race is over populated by older white men, and the best actor race is generally all white all the time, of course  this disregards the every couple of years the Academy decides they’re going to be all exclusive and progressive.

All of these factors work against Wallis and Henry, both of whom gave two of the best performances of the year.

Quvenzhané Wallis is almost a lock for a nomination with Jennifer Lawrence being her main opponent as of now. (Jessica Chastain will very likely overpower both once Zero Dark Thirty hits theaters.) Only six years old when she shot the film, she showed a quality of grace, presence and power that typically only exudes from actresses with decades of experience, as the titular character Hushpuppy in Beasts of the Southern Wild. For someone so diminutive in size she portrayed such power and perseverance in the face of daunting circumstances. She was heartbreaking in her resilience as a young girl whose been forced into a state of independence and survival due to her environment and the way she was raised. Wallis is hugely physical, allowing Hushpuppy’s ferocity to shine through as she invades people’s space and shows her desperation when trying to save her father.

This was a powerhouse performance from an actress who previously had no other credits to her name. Her age will be a detractor, but it’s absurd that her main competitor is Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, a performance that lacked any of the subtlety Wallis conveyed and fell more into the over-the-top area. It was obvious Lawrence was acting, and with Wallis, it was natural. Lawrence’s potential nod and positive critiques are due to her past nomination, her blockbuster success, and the fact that she’s the new “hot thing.”

The other actor from the film that deserves a nomination and possible win is Dwight Henry, who played the father. He has much more going against him. The supporting actor category is packed by older, established men, while this was Henry’s first role. Right now, he’s competing against heavy weights such as Tommy Lee Jones for Lincoln and Robert DeNiro for Silver Linings Playbook. While DeNiro was great, highly enjoyable and his best in the past couple of years, he was nowhere near his personal best.  Henry on the other hand is so good, so natural, that it’s mind blowing that he isn’t a trained actor. His physicality dominates the screen. He manages to convey power, strength, remorse and genuine care with such moving delicacy, despite his overpowering demeanor. It’s outstanding the character didn’t feel overwhelmed with depth.


However, him being a non-actor, Wallis is more likely to get a nomination, and the fact that the Academy and Hollywood, in general, is much more favorable to white actors works against Henry. He’s already been cast in Steve McQueen’s next film, 12 Years a Slave, but he’s a name audiences will have to fight for to be recognized.

Oscar season is tough due to the manipulation of campaigning, big studio money pushing for their actors to win (Weinstein), and the popularity contest that goes on. The two stars of Beasts of the Southern Wild unarguably gave amazing, star-forming performances that sadly due to the politics of old, stuffy men behind the Hollywood curtain.

 Watch Beasts of the Southern Wild and understand the caliber of talent these actors possess. The DVD/Blu-Ray releases on Tuesday, December 4th.



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