Quvenzhané Wallis and Black-woman Dreamers
by Neichelle R. Guidry Jones
From the night my husband and I went to see Beasts of the Southern Wild, my spirit fluttered at Quvenzhané Wallis’ beautiful performance and the myriad possibilities that are in her future as a woman and an artist. Something about that hair all over her head, that high-pitched scream and the few, yet poignant, words that she spoke had me feeling like I was wrapped back up in a cocoon of child-like dreams.
I couldn’t wait to get home to Google the woman-child and discover some of her story. When I learned of the subversive way that she gained her role as Hushpuppy (of whom Quvenzhané says she even “more fearless!”), and as I watched many interviews, my fluttering spirit received “confirmation” of why she called to into reflection on my dreams, and on myself as a dreamer. Quvenzhané is a dreamer. She’s a free spirit. She is Janie Crawford before Jody, Teacake and the death-dealing storm. She is the vision of Jill Scott’s “Golden” in the middle of a summer morning in Atlanta.
Immediately, I began to tweet about how I couldn’t wait for her to win the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Sure, she had already made history by becoming the youngest nominee in this category ever. But, she was also the only woman of color in the category. This was her first feature film ever. She isn’t a highly trained actress. She was the paradoxical nominee. But, she was nominated and she was excited. And last night, when the camera caught her after the snippet of Beasts was shown, she had her Muhammad Ali arms up, flexing and swinging, celebrating herself and living in the moment. I, like many, couldn’t fight the urge to smile and say, “go girl!”
Sure, perhaps I had been “dreaming” that she would win the award, but this is the blessing of the space into which she drew me, and I believe that this is a space with which Black woman are intimately familiar. We’ve often been the paradoxical ones – students, scholars, executives, preachers, et cetera. Because of this, we have often had to be our own most visible and most boisterous cheerleaders. We have often had to soldier for our dreams and for the validity of our presence in certain arenas, when nothing has given us an indication that either one is valuable. I shutter to think of the commentary made by Seth McFarlane and tweeted by The Onion, while nine-year-old Quvenzhané was somewhere enjoying the fact that she had been nominated for one of the highest honors that Hollywood can bestow upon an artist. It was a crude reminder that while the bodies and lives of Black women are ever open for critique, our dreams have very few places to flourish. Yet and still, despite the paradox, we remain. Because we believe in our dreams and we believe that it is possible to achieve every last one of them. We keep on dreamin’.
But, this is the way of Black women who have known ourselves as dreamers. We take the hatred and the criticism, and use them as spiritual fuel to pursue destiny with reinvigorated fervor. We take them as opportunities to enter into coalition. We take them as opportunities to rally around one another. (I couldn’t help but stick my chest out as women and men from across the racial continuum took to countless social media platforms to decry the outright sexualization and degradation of Quvenzhané. Change.org has even issued a petition, calling for a public retraction and a review of hiring practices at The Onion.) We take them as opportunities to hold up our Muhammad Ali arms, flexing and swinging, ready to fight for the lives and the dreams that are our own. We take our dreams as opportunities to take ourselves seriously and to actualize our visions until we see them with our natural eyes.
Our dreams have launched us into activism, ministry, marriage, motherhood. Our dreams have even launched us into divorce and greater degrees of independence. Our dreams have enabled us to reach beyond ourselves, as they have often had implications for our communities. Think of Harriet’s dream of freedom. Jarena’s dream to preach. Hattie’s dream to act. Billie and Bey’s dreams to sing. Fannie’s dream to cease being “sick and tired.” These dreams have meant something to all of us.
I would like to thank Quvenzhané Wallis for allowing us to journey with her. I know that I am looking forward to Twelve Years a Slave and Annie (which I will not be calling her, seeing as how this is not her name…). More importantly, I am grateful for a little brown girl, floating on big screens and calling grown brown women back to our dreams. Back to the gall to say what’s on our minds. Back to our voices. Back into spaces – reflective and active – in which our dreams are worth enduring the tears, the isolation, and the criticism because they are the fruits of our lives.
And because dream-chasing is fun.
Photo Credit: Koury Angelo | Neichelle Guidry Jones is the Founder of Shepreaches Magazine. Follow her on Twitter at @nrgjones.