Now that “Beasts of the Southern Wild” is far from the protective, progressive bubble of Sundance and venturing out into the wide, wide world of mainstream movie theaters this week, the fantastical movie is encountering increasing questions about what it says and shows about post-Katrina Louisiana. Though set in a fantastical bayou island called the Bathtub, director Benh Zeitlin has had to defend the film’s underpinnings, about race, class and the displacement of the poor.
In an interview at The Atlantic Monthly’s website, Zeitlin says the film was actually more about issues outside of New Orleans, such as current land-loss in southern Louisiana, the levee issues around the Mississippi River “and salt water intrusion and the oil spill and all this other stuff that for me was actually more the reference point,” he said.
But the director also acknowledged the film was in some ways a more direct “political statement” about people being displaced. “People should not be forced to leave their homes. The whole movie is about why you can’t be pulled out of your home,” he said.
“The inspiration for making the film was the post-Katrina reaction of, ‘Why do you still live here? Why can’t you just move to St. Louis? This is too dangerous. You shouldn’t build there. This is a waste of money. Why would you want to live there?,’ he told The Atlantic. “The Bathtub hopefully is an answer to that question. Because this is the greatest place on earth. We have the most freedom, we don’t need money, we don’t need all these things that are thought of as necessary. We don’t need that because we have this place that feeds us both literally and spiritually.”
“No one really respects the self-sufficiency of south Louisiana; there’s a lot of disrespect for it. When people come in there they think, ‘These people need help, let’s get them out of here and teach them how to be more functional citizens’—as if they’re idiots…. If that’s a political statement, that’s definitely there.”