Making the Case For…Dwight Henry

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Dwight Henry

Praise is due when praise is deserved. The only performance that brought me to tears this year–and I’m a big crier–was Dwight Henry in Beasts of the Southern Wild. Henry makes the character of Wink more personal and relatable than the script reads.

Stevee at CinematicParadox is hosting a Blog-a-thon to showcase a film or performance that may not receive recognition this award season. With the Golden Globes being announced Thursday, I hope I’m proven wrong, but I’ll make my case for Dwight Henry hoping he’ll get the nod he deserves.

Beasts of the Southern Wild Gif

Beasts of the Southern Wild Henry and Wallis

Despite his polarizing performance as the aggressive tough-loving father Wink in Beasts of the Southern Wild, Dwight Henry has the odds against him this award season. The supporting actor category this year will potentially hold nominees like Phillip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) and Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook) in the mix. Standing next to these patrons of Hollywood, not to mention patrons with accolades already under their belt, Henry’s odds seem slim.

But aren’t we tired of seeing the same actors nominated and cast in every film? Seldom do we find newcomers who really break through that glass  in film not only receiving recognition, but with absolutely no acting experience on their résumé.

Dwight Henry Buttermilk Drop Bakery

It’s not typical for a director and casting crew to pluck someone from obscurity, but newcomer director Behn Zeitlin understood that Henry’s persona as the owner of  Buttermilk Drops Cafe–located in the 7th Ward of New Orleans– and personal experience living in Louisiana would create an authenticity to the character of Wink; He was right.

Henry’s portrayal of the ailed, poverty-stricken father living in a counter-culture community was personal to the actor. Having the ability for improvisation with his character gave the character of Wink a greater authenticity that the role required.

“There was a lot of freedom. He [Zeitlin] would give us a script, and I’d read it. We’d talk about different things, and then he would take the script and throw it away – he would re-write the scene, and he wanted it in my words. If I was reading off a script, it wouldn’t be as natural coming out. It seems more real and more natural like that.” Dwight Henry via The Scored Review

While some critics found Beasts of the Southern Wild contrived, disappointing or difficult to relate to, the raw performance from Henry is undeniable.

Dwight Henry Beasts of the Southern Wild

“Being from New Orleans, I want people to be aware of some of the difficulties that we go through, and see the strength that we have in ourselves through the worst type of situations. We seem to always recover; we have a strength that is unprecedented. Some of the situations we go through down there are problems we don’t have to have, like flooding, which is caused by situations with the way they build things, when they revert water from one way to another way.” Dwight Henry via The Scored Review

The buzz surrounding Beasts hasn’t ceased since it premiered at Sundance last spring. But the buzz for Henry hasn’t been nearly as strong as his leading lady–Quvenzhané Wallis. Henry’s personal experience and connection to New Orleans are wildly apparent in his performance; amateur or not, he delivers some of the most powerful scenes of the year.

Filming Beasts of the Southern Wild

And for all the whiners complaining about this being a fantasy tale in a Katrina-like setting, Henry tells The Movie Blog that “We don’t want to relate the film to Hurricane Katrina because it’s a long line of things we go through in the past and the future. We don’t like to relate the film to one specific incident.”

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6 Comments

  1. Interesting stuff! He did get nominated for an award (can’t remember what it was off the top of my head), so here’s hoping we get some new talent in the mix!

  2. I had read the story behind this actor’s joining the cast, and based on that, I am so glad you chose him. I would love to see more outsiders win major awards. I love the quotes you shared — he sounds like a very thoughtful, intelligent guy. Now I’m really interested in seeing the film. 🙂

    1. Considering his personal life is so uniquely related to the film makes his character so special. Not to mention he didn’t an incredible job for a non-actor. Still blown away by his performance. Hoping for Oscar recognition!

  3. I’d love to see Henry get a Best Supporting Actor nomination. I was stunned after watching Beasts to read that a decent portion of critics didn’t like Henry’s role. I thought he was the strongest part of the movie and gave a very convincing performance.

    1. I don’t understand how any critic wouldn’t like his role/character/acting/whatever. He’s playing an alcoholic mess of a father. And with zero acting experience? He’s giving the pros a run for their money!

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