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Dee Dee Thurston / Houma Courier

A local girl with no former acting experience made history this morning by becoming the youngest person in the Academy Awards' 85-year history to earn a 'best-actress' nomination.

Quvenzhane Wallis, 9, of Houma, star of the widely acclaimed 'Beasts of the Southern Wild,' was among the nominees announced during a ceremony held early today in Hollywood.

Wallis, a student at Elysian Fields, was in Los Angeles with her mother today and neither were immediately available for comment.

Filmed locally in 2010 and released over the summer, 'Beasts of the Southern Wild,' received several Academy Award nominations this morning, including 'best picture,' 'best director' and 'best adapted screenplay.'

It was the first acting role for the then-6-year-old, who competed with thousands of other elementary-school-age girls for the role of Hushpuppy, a child who struggles to come to grips with the pending loss of both her father and her coastal home.

In an interview posted Wednesday by New York Newsday, director Benh Zeitlin talked about Wallis' contribution to the film and her potential Oscar nomination.

She 'deserves it,' he said. 'She's so real, and she's so herself, and she doesn't have any pretense and she's so close to her feelings.'

Zeitlin said he considered '4,000 people for that role, and I'd never seen a kid who could act like that. It's a miraculous thing, and it's talent.'

Ahead of her nomination, he said the recognition is 'like a really beautiful underdog story, so I'm hoping for her the most, I think.'

Wallis was honored late last year by the Terrebonne Parish Council, and Parish President Michel Claudet presented her with a key to the parish.

'I remember her exact comment was, 'Thank you for the key,' ' he said with a chuckle. 'Such a nice young lady.'

Contacted early today, Claudet said he hadn't yet heard of the Oscar announcement but deemed it 'wonderful.'

'I don't think I could be prouder,' he said. 'She's such a great ambassador for Terrebonne Parish and Houma.'

Hank Babin, a local real-estate agent, met with some producers during filming and attended the screening in Montegut.

He said he remembers 'talking about what possible awards it might get' after seeing the movie.

'This was their first film, right out the gate, their first major motion picture. So for them to achieve this has got to be a remarkable feeling,' Babin said. 'I'm proud for them that they've gotten such acclaim.'

'Beasts of the Southern Wild' won the top prize in the independent film category at January's Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for Spirit Awards in several categories including Best Picture and Best Cinematography. Wallis got the nod for Best Actress and Zeitlin was picked Best Director.

Staff Writer Kris Johnson contributed to this report.

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