Academy Nominates Youngest Actress Ever, 9-Year-Old Quvenzhane Wallis

John Howard

On Thursday morning, while the rooster was still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes, the Academy announced its nominations for the 85th annual Oscars. And one of those nominations was a little unusual.

Quvenzhané Wallis, a nine-year-old mix of talent and energy, was nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role for “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” Alongside veteran names like Naomi Watts (The Impossible) and Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty), Wallis is the youngest actress to ever be nominated for the category.

It’s a move that has people asking: “Who the hell is this little fireball?”

Wallis earned the role of Hushpuppy, a gifted child living with her dying father in rural Louisiana, in Beasts of the Southern Wild (also nominated for Best Picture and Best Directing), by going against 4,000 competing children. She had to lie about her age for the spot, as she was under the minimum age allowed for the production.

She is a Louisiana native and is one of four children—her siblings are Qunyquekya, Venjie Jr., and Vejon—to Venjie Sr. and Qulyndreia Wallis.

As demonstrated in Beasts, her debut acting role, Wallis is a force to be reckoned with. Reviewers praised her performance: New York Times’ critic A.O. Scott called her an “untrained sprite who holds the camera’s attention” and Roger Ebert wrote, “I wonder if the movie would have been possible without her.”

But despite the critical acclaim that the film has received, many scoffed at the idea of decorating such a youngster with an Oscar nod.

Film critic Scott MacDonald said in The Atlantic that “sensible people” would never nominate Wallis.

“She’s a kid, and she just ‘is,’” wrote MacDonald. “This is, of course, a big part of what we’re responding to when we watch Wallis: her innocence and her lack of self-consciousness. She feels genuine precisely because she’s incapable of being otherwise.”

And, while one might think she’s the youngest Oscar-nominated actor ever, that honor is actually held by eight-year-old Justin Henry, who was nominated for his role in 1979’s “Kramer vs. Kramer.” Though, to Wallis’ credit, due to the film’s excruciating journey to theaters, she was only five when Beasts started shooting. 

Rounding out the Best Actress category are Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) and Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), who just so happens to be the oldest actress ever nominated for the category—perhaps the most exciting category this year. 

Academy Awards air Sunday, February 24, 2013 on ABC.

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