Idol Worship: We’re Lucky Quvenzhané Wallis Has A High Tolerance for Bullshit ‘Cause We Need Her Around

Welcome to Idol Worship, a biweekly devotional to whoever the fuck I’m into. This is a no-holds-barred lovefest for my favorite celebrities, rebels and biker chicks; women qualify for this column simply by changing my life and/or moving me deeply. This week I’m reminding the world of Quvenzhané Wallis’ rightful reputation as young badass grasshopper.

Header by Rory Midhani

Quvenzhané Wallis has the most popular name in the 24/7 news cycle as of late, which is funny considering just two days ago journalists couldn’t even be bothered to learn how to pronounce it. (And in case you need help figuring that out, I got you covered. Just don’t be a dipshit about it.)

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Wallis snuck into an audition for Beast of the Southern Wild at five, flipping a bird to the man and lying about her age to pretend to be the minimum requirement of six years deep into life. The moment in which she was selected to play Hushpuppy was kismet, history in the making, an unbelievable gift from Goddess who proclaimed Let Us Keep This Kickass Child In Our Hearts. After seeing over 3,500 auditions, director Behn Zeitlin selected Wallis and adapted the screenplay for her own personality. Nothing would ever be the same again: the movie won big at Cannes and Sundance and Wallis landed a historic nomination for Best Actress at this year’s Academy Awards.

Born on August 28, 2003, Quvenzhané was the youngest of four raised by Qulyndreia and Venjie Sr. Wallis in Houma, Louisiana. Now she’s the 10th black woman to be nominated for an Oscar and the first nominee to be born in the 21st century. A girl who wanted to be a dentist when she was five is now nine and strutting the red carpet (with a puppy purse, no less). And it’s like, kind of sort of totally amazing.

When I reached the age of 14, I sort of looked back on my life and wondered why I wasn’t, well, more famous. I mean, I grew up in what I’d like to believe was an unprecedented sea of tween stardom. I watched the Olsen Twins grow an empire that moved from WalMart to New York Fashion Week, I saw Hillary Duff grow up into a permanently immature adult, I came of age as Macauley Culkin began hiding out in his Manhattan apartment while whispering to Barbara Walters that “I’m afraid of everyone.” I even watched Aaron Carter grow up to throw, to our dismay, no good parties. And the entire time I was just sitting there.

I used to guilt my mom about it – “why didn’t you make me famous? why didn’t you take me to auditions? why doesn’t anyone want to cast a girl with some thick-ass frizzy hair and two chipmunk cheeks in any of these well-made and expensive feature films?” WASN’T I A STAR? I’d spent days outside writing and singing songs, designed my own magazine feature stories (no, like, actually designed the layout and wrote the copy on my home computer), and planned out my famous, fabulous self. It just had to get born.

The child stars I grew up with, though, often fizzled. Some went away simply because they weren’t popular anymore, or had fame that was limited to their ability to be pre-teens. Some went a little fucking crazy. Some were just plain bad once they got old. The older I got, the more grateful I became for my reclusive and private youth, and for not having to battle demons and watch my step at the ripe age of 10 or 12. And the more I learn about Quvenzhané, the more I am convinced that she will survive Hollywood and all of its lunacy in the way I maybe never would.

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just a young whippersnapper running the oscars

Quvenzhané didn’t know what an Oscar was when she received her Academy Award nomination; she doesn’t even know, honestly, if she wants to stay in the biz. Yet she possesses a maturity that escapes even some grown-ass men and women on the red carpet. I didn’t want news coverage of Wallis’ Oscar night to be so consumed with the negative: reports of sexist commentary aimed at her, the Onion tweet which broke the Internet, and the journalists who disrespected her on the red carpet take so much away from what she was doing there. She wasn’t feeding drama or egging on controversy. She was just totally cool, collected and proud, truly finding her own amidst a thick aire of celebrity. She made friends with Samuel Jackson and Halle Berry, charmed reporters with her custom-made puppy purse, and even managed to spend the night feeling good about herself despite Seth MacFarlane’s apparent deep desire to attack the self-worth of all women in Hollywood simultaneously while they are all gathered in one space.

That’s because Quvenzhané Wallis is a nine-year-old wunderkind who kindly and gently reminds people how to pronounce the name of an Oscar nominee, who believes in her own inner strength and her own capabilities, who speaks sincerely and honestly about her own life and experiences, who is proud of who she is, who is already aware enough to defend herself and make right for herself any wrongs she’s been affronted. Wallis faced down disrespectful reporters, offensive commentary, and rude remarks with a tiny but genuine smile. She’s spunky, fierce, fabulous, smart, hearty, soulful, brave. She’s amazing. She’s a 21st-century child star raised on girl power and self-love. We’re lucky to know her and to have her in Hollywood, and though only time will tell where she’s headed I think we can rest assured she’ll head there with her chin up and her smile wide.

Super-stardom could be on the way for Quvenzhané, considering the recent casting decision to have her play Annie in an upcoming 2014 remake being produced by Jay-Z and Will Smith. (Smith’s own daughter rejected the role in order to better “be twelve.”) The role is expected to propel her fame to new, unparalleled heights. We know from her behavior at the 85th Academy Awards that Wallis is ready for fame’s pokes and prods, and even some of its harder slaps. And we learned that we need her to stick around to teach us exactly how girls run shit these days.

Carmen is the Digital Editor at Ms. , Managing Editor at Argot, a Contributor at Everyday Feminism, and Co-Host of The Bossy Show. She previously served as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor, and Social Media Co-Director at Autostraddle. You can find her on Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 925 articles for us.

28 Comments

  1. I love this, Carmen, and I’m glad Autostraddle is joining the community of folks who are showering this child with the love she deserves. I am unsettled by the caption on the GIF above… We’ve all heard, by now, of the infamous tweet from The Onion referring to Wallis as a c**t. Do we want to caption her with another word that is so often used to denigrate women? I get that context matters (and that “bad b***h” can be a compliment of the highest order!), but it hit a little too close to home for me. Maybe we could come up with something more worthy this young woman’s fabulousness?

  2. I love this child. I just hope to god she has good people around her and doesn’t let the media machine get to her as she continues in her career. All of those so-called reporters who couldn’t even be bothered to try to pronounce her name should be ashamed of themselves.

  3. Yeah I was pretty grossed out but not surprised of the Jezebel comments trying to tear down a 9 year old. I love how she is confident when the world tells little cute black girls like her that she is not worth it. I can’t wait to see what comes next!

  4. So glad to see this article, but just wanted to clarify that Quvenzhane Wallis was born and raised in Houma, Louisiana, not New Orleans. I went to a little town in Terrebonne Parish every summer for six years as a kid, and so I’m happy to see southern Louisiana/bayou country and its beautiful children get some recognition and love!

  5. The Onion stuff isn’t even the most offensive thing I’ve been reading about this girl this week. Has anybody been reading the articles about her playing Annie? The comments sections are full of white people complaining about a black girl playing Annie. Talking about “reverse-racism” and how Hollywood is pandering and bowing down to blacks. My favorites are the dumbasses who are all “Well, then why can’t Meryl Streep play Harriet Tubman then?” Is that even a real question? Annie is a fictional character, you imbeciles!

    • Yeah, that sounds about right. Reminds me of when the Hunger Games came out…the uproar with fans complaining about Rue being black. I try to avoid any race or gay related threads on general forums where anybody can comment. I think Yahoo comments are the absolute worst. Someone really should make a PSA so that people no longer make asses of themselves on public threads. I have in my mind the perfect utopia where people aren’t so ignorant, but then get smacked back into reality whenever I browse comments sections.

  6. I saw a comment I hadn’t even thought of, on another site: If you, reporter, truly can’t be arsed to figure out how to pronounce her first name (which really just requires hearing it, like, twice), just call her Miss Wallis or Ms. Wallis and have done with it.

    • Yes, this! There are so many better ways to handle yourself as a reporter if you really can’t pronounce her first name (or are too afraid of butchering it on live TV to try) than making up a nickname for her or calling her by a character’s name. People just can’t be bothered to show any respect to a child, apparently, even if she is an Oscar nominee.

  7. I am in awe of Quvenzhane Wallis! Apparently she was calling the Oscars “The Golden Man” for ages until her nomination.

    If you haven’t already clicked that “didn’t know what an Oscar was…” link, do yourself a favour and watch the video on page 5. INSIGHTFUL AND HILARIOUS.

    She is also starring in the film “Boneshaker” as a Ghanaian girl in America whose family takes her to Louisiana to be exorcised, which premieres at Sundance this year. I cannot wait to see more from her.

  8. Prior to this weekend, I didn’t know Jay Z and Will Smith were doing a remake of Annie, but now I’m totally excited for it.

    I thought she was brilliant in Beasts of the Southern Wild and I loved seeing her on the red carpet, there was the cutest picture of her showing her puppy purse to Jessica Chastain. I just hope she has good people around her and makes it through the next couple years without running into some of the issues that seem to plague child stars.

  9. She is too awesome! I Can’t wait to see what she continues to accomplish because this is one talented little lady! Go Quvenzhané!!!

    Also y’all is it weird that I want to be as cool as this 9 year old when I grow up?

  10. Quvenzhané Wallis is adorable and awesome! I haven’t seen Beasts yet but I really want to, because she has to have immense talent to be nominated at such a young age.

    I totally respect her not deciding yet if she wants to stay in the biz, and child stardom can be harmful – partly because of asshats like the ones making crass comments about her. But I would like to see her acting career go on for at least a little longer, because she has so immense promise. I’m sure whatever career she ends up in, she’ll be phenomenal and I hope we’ll all get to follow it!

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