Empowerment is a central focus of American society. It is the heart of our discussion about freedom. We want to be free to be who we are, to do what we want to do (so long as we hurt no one else), and one of the main keys to this in American society is the power to tell people stopping us from wanting to do our own thing, “Leave us alone!” This is a power that people in the past didn’t have. We don’t have to go far back in history to find large masses of people being arrested, imprisoned, tortured and killed because they were living their lives the way they wanted to live them. Most Americans are offended by the idea of persecuting or prosecuting people because they are black, gay, atheist, or a child. The American answer to all these cases is to empower the people to refute persecution with law.
Beasts of the Southern Wild, however, takes a very different view of feral communities. The Bathtub is a joyful, if not especially bright, community, full of innovation and support and love. Even though many of them barely survive, they are still vibrant. Although floods come to devastate their community, this isn’t a story of desperation and rescue. In fact, salvation from the outside is the enemy. While most of us would be on our roofs, waving to the helicopters, they crawl in drying hovels, hoping the helicopters would go away. Because for the feral community, empowerment is separation from government, separation from laws and the police and from anyone who wants to “save” them. Even when their land becomes unlivable.
A child, along with the developmentally disabled and mentally ill, is the one who has the least ability to be empowered. Yet all of these films give the main tools for empowerment for the most helpless and vulnerable. It is not law, for law requires some legal standing and experience. It is not governmental authority, because adults do not really understand the perspective and need of the child (or mentally ill). How can a hopeless, helpless child be empowered?
For a change, movies give us a key. All of these films, including Beasts of the Southern Wild, give us the key: determination and imagination.
Although children, and others in powerless situations, may lack in traditional intelligence or resources that normally means survival, if they (or we) have that imaginative determination we can and will survive. Perhaps these are qualities we should encourage. For these are the true leaders of our society.