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Houma Courier

Many locals plan to watch Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony to root for Quvenzhane Wallis. Wallis, a Houma resident and star of the Terrebonne-filmed 'Beasts of the Southern Wild.'

Wallis, 9, is the youngest Best Actress nominee in the Academy Awards' 85-year history an accomplishment, locals said, that brings a great sense of pride to the bayou community.

'She's got this,' Tammy Parfait said, referring to Wallis' shot at winning the Oscar.

Houma resident Lisa Leboeuf, 50, agreed, adding that Wallis 'is very bright, beautiful and down to earth.'

'The movie was awesome, and she was fantastic. I believe she should win,' Leboeuf said. 'So many negative things are said about Houma. It's time we get to shine.'

Tiffany Evans works in local retail and said the movie continues to sell out.

'We can't keep 'Beasts of the Southern Wild' in stock,' Evans said. 'It's a good movie, and we need to support this young actress of our hometown. We have a lot of talent here that goes unnoticed.'

Terrebonne and Lafourche have had their fair share of stars. From musicians to reality TV stars, several locals have appeared on stage and screen.

But now, the area has representation in Hollywood, the nation's biggest hub for the biggest stars.

No one feels more pride than the Wallis family, said Melanie Wallis, Quvenzhane's cousin and principal at Elysian Fields Middle School in Houma. Quvenzhane is a fourth-grader at the school.

'Speaking as a member of the family, we're all very proud of her,' Melanie Wallis said. 'Since everything started, no one knew the movie would get the press and the publicity it has gotten.

'Once we all met and got together and saw her acting in the movie, we were all blown away. We couldn't believe that this little girl with no training, no experience, could produce a part like that, so we were just in awe and shock,' she said.

Melanie said while the film buzz came as a shock, Quvenzhane's resulting success did not, as 'she's always been an outgoing child and wise beyond her years.'

'She has just a very unique, bubbly and outgoing personality. Where she gets it from, nobody knows. That's just the way she is,' Melanie said. 'She's very articulate for a child and very expressive, and we just don't know where she gets it from.'

Quvenzhane's nomination alone is historic, as she is the youngest nominee for the Best Actress category. 'Beasts' was her first acting role.

She was only 5 years old when she auditioned, a process that had her competing with thousands of other young girls for the role of Hushpuppy, a child who struggles to come to grips with the pending loss of her father and her coastal home.

She was 6 years old when filming began.

Quvenzhane spent the past two months traveling across the country doing interviews and making appearances on talk shows and red carpets.

But Nazie, as she's called by family and friends, told The Courier earlier this month that school is still important and she's keeping up with her class work. She said she falls right back into the routine when she returns and picks up playing with her friends.

When asked if Quvenzhane seems to be adjusting well to her newfound fame, Melanie replied, 'Oh, God yes.'

'The faculty and staff here, we're blown away by her every time because she goes and sees all these movie stars that some of us never in our lifetime will meet, and she travels all these places, (and) she comes back and fits right in.'

Filmed in 2010 and released over the summer, 'Beasts of the Southern Wild,' received several Academy Award nominations including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

'This is one of the best movies that I have seen in a long time,' said Houma resident Debra Duke. 'It stands a great chance at taking Best Picture.'

Whether the movie or its cast and crew win, locals say they're proud to be part of the 'Beasts' legacy.

'Everyone had a hand in making this film what it is,' said crew member Mike Arceneaux of Montegut, adding that the way everything fell into place is an illustration of the welcoming spirit and sense of community south Louisiana is known for.

'I loved the movie. It was whimsical and sad but also made you think and left you with a good feeling when it was over,' said Katie Conner, 31. 'I loved Hushpuppy and thought she was amazing. When the movie ended, I thought about her for days.

'I hope Quvenzhane wins,' Conner added. 'What a great experience for her. Even if she doesn't act again in the future, she deserves all the accolades for her performance in 'Beasts of the Southern Wild.' '

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