Thomas Hackett calls the Oscar-nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild “patronizing and borderline racist”:

[Beasts] comes to us as one of those movies “the industry can be proud of,” which the great bullshit detector Pauline Kael called out in her famous 1969 essay “Trash, Art and the Movies”—a film we feel honored to acclaim. It skims the surface of serious matters without asking us to actually grapple with their complexities: We can feel guilty, virtuous, and indifferent all at once.

Beasts does this primarily by turning poverty into a kind of sentimental, specious poetry. Sentimentality has its uses, of course, not the least of which is to mask unpleasant realities with comforting hooey. Basically, it’s a form of moral and intellectual pornography, an easy way of getting off that, in the case of Beasts, begins and ends in patronizing attitudes of racial superiority. Just as nineteenth-century readers were endeared to the “funny little specimen” of Topsy in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, audiences and reviewers have also taken complete leave of their critical faculties over Beast’s Hushpuppy with her big eyes, shock of Don King hair, precious voice-over narration, and cutesy-pie name. [A.O.] Scott calls the girl an “American original”; in fact, though, Hushpuppy is just yet another iteration in a long and cherished line of pickaninnies.

The actress who plays her, Quvenzhané Wallis, is the youngest ever nominee for Best Actress, at the age of 9.