African American actress makes history: Youngest ever nominated for Best Actress Oscar

Young, Gifted & Black Series

By Taki S. Raton

Quvezhane’ Wallis

CeCe Mcghee in her Jan. 10, 2013 Praise 103.9 writing describes this 9 year-old as being “just as cute as a little button.” In November 2012, she received the key to her hometown Houma, located in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana for her exemplar work in film.

She is young, gifted, and Black. Quvezhane’ Wallis just made history with being one of the nominees for the 85th Annual Academy Awards. With this announcement, Quvezhane’ is the youngest actress ever to be nominated for an Academy Awards in the Best Actress category in a leading role.

Born in Louisiana, Quvezhane’ is the daughter of Qulyndreia, a teacher, and Venice Wallis, Sr., a truck driver. “Quven”, the first part of her name, combines her parents’ first names. Her mother reveals that “zhane”, according to quoted writings, means “fairy” in Swahili

The movie vividly portrays a young child prodigy and survivalist who lived with her father in the backwoods bayou squalor of an isolated Louisiana swampland. According to Kyle Jarrod in, Hushpuppy (Quvezhane’s character) must take care of her father who suddenly becomes stricken with a strange illness.

Challenges further abound as the swampland environment “seems to be going crazy,” notes Jarrod, as Mother Nature goes out of control. The heat rises and mystical creatures called “Aurochs” are unleashed. In spite of all this chaos, as described in the Examiner writing, Hushpuppy goes on a quest to find her lost mother. “She is definitely not an average elementary school girl,” says Jarrod.

Quvezhane’ was only 5 when she auditioned for her part in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ receiving major recognition and much critical acclaim for the character “Hushpuppy”. And according to published accounts, she eventually beat out some 4000 contenders for this role.

Director Benh Zetlin is quoted as noting that when he auditioned Quvezhane’, he “immediately realized that he discovered what he was looking for, and changed the “Beast” script to accommodate her strong-willed personality.”

To rave reviews and resounding accolades, the film premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January 2012, winning the Grand Jury Prize.

Quvezhane’ then flew to France for the premier of the film at the Cannes Film Festival where she received praise for her superb performance. “Beast” went on to win the prestigious Camera’ d’Or Award for Best Film.

In addition to Best Actress, ‘Beast of the Southern Wild’ on the Academy Award recognition day was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Writes Madeline Boardman in HuffPost Entertainment on Jan. 11, Quvezhane’, who was 9 years and 135 days old as of the Jan. 10 nomination date, is indeed the youngest actress ever nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role and the third youngest person to be nominated for an Oscar in any of the four overall acting categories behind Justine Henry (‘Kramer Vs. Kramer’), who was 8 years and 276 days old when he was recognized for Best Supporting Actor in 1980 along with Jackie Cooper (Skippy”) who was 9 years and 20 days old when earned recognition for Best Actor in 1931.

If Quvezhane’ wins, according to Boardman, she will be 9 years and 180 days old on Feb. 24, the youngest person ever to win an Academy Award in an acting category. The current holder is Tatum O’Neal who was 10 years and 148 days old when she won Best Supporting Actress honors for ‘Paper Moon’ in 1974.

Since her premier role in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild.’ Quvezhane’ has been casts in the upcoming movie ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ which also stars Paul Giamatti, Brad Pitt, and Michael Fassbender.

Born June 10, 1895 in Wichita, Kansas, Hattie McDaniel was the first African American to win an Academy Award. She was recognized for Best Supporting Actress for her role of “Mammy” in the 1939 movie, ‘Gone with the Wind.’ McDaniel has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood and in 1975, she was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. In 2006, she became the first Black Oscar winner honored with a US postage stamp.