(The Root) — On the night before the Oscar nominations, Quvenzhané Wallis was a 9-year-old hopeful working the room at the party Quincy Jones threw for filmmakers at Spago in Beverly Hills. Two days later, after she became the youngest person ever to be nominated for best actress, Wallis, now a seasoned pro, entered the ballroom of her hotel with an entourage.
Her mom Qulyndreia and her “HAMUG” — hair and makeup girl.
Having already won the Critics Choice Award for outstanding young actress for her role as Hushpuppy in Sundance-winning Beasts of the Southern Wild on the same day she was nominated for an Academy Award, Wallis was a bit over the intrusion of electronic and print reporters routinely mispronouncing her name in hopes that she would utter some memorable soundbite. Alas, instead of being able to watch her favorite cartoon at 9 a.m. Saturday, she was playing host to more media outlets, including Vogue’s André Leon Talley.
“I think I know who he is,” she told The Root, speaking barely above a whisper. “I think I saw him last night.”
Fortunately for Wallis, her ever-present mom and the Fox Searchlight publicity team are making sure that Hollywood’s preteen “it girl” has ample time to just be a kid, one who enjoys simple pleasures like “aggravating her dogs” and industry perks such as attending a taping of her favorite show.
“I got to go to [Disney Channel’s] A.N.T. Farm!” the Houma, La., native said when asked how much fun she was having. “That was the best part. I got to meet the cast!”
Don’t get it twisted, however. She is fully cognizant of her place in history. Not only is she the youngest nominee ever in her category, but she’s only the 10th African American in 85 years to get a best actress nod. Halle Berry remains the only winner in this category.
“I know what the Oscars are,” said Wallis, who was half-asleep when she saw her name scrolling down the screen on television when the nominees were announced. “I was kind of surprised on the inside but not on the outside.”
Wallis’ performance as an orphaned child struggling to survive on her own in the Louisiana Delta following a devastating hurricane is undoubtedly brilliant. And the fact that she was only 5 when the film was shot makes it even more so. She lied about her age to snag the audition because the producers were only interested in seeing 6-year-olds. Beasts producer Josh Penn is glad she did. Wallis beat out 4,000 other hopefuls.