Jonshel Alexander, Former Child Actor in ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ Killed at 22

by Taylor Cunningham

Jonshel Alexander, a former child actor who starred in the Oscar-nominated film Beasts of the Southern Wild, died in a shooting this past weekend. She was 22.

According to the New Orleans Police Department, Alexander and an unnamed man were shot while sitting inside a vehicle on Saturday (November 27th). The coroner pronounced Alexander dead at the scene. And the man drove himself to a local hospital for treatment.

Jonshel Alexander, a Louisiana native, was the youngest of three children. Six years after starring in Beasts of the Southern Wild, she graduated high school, became a mother, and began working as a hostess. The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported that the star devoted her life to caring for her one-year-old daughter, De-vynne Robinson.

“She brought life to everything,” her mother Shelly Alexander said on Tuesday. “Jonshel was feisty, jazzy, spoiled. It was her way or no way. Jonshel was like, ‘It’s going to be me.’”

Officials are seeking a person of interest in the shooting. And they have asked the public to come forward with any information in the case.

Jonshel Alexander Starred in the Oscar-Nominated Film at 12 Years Old

Jonshel Alexander starred in the critically-acclaimed Beasts of the Southern Wild when she was 12 years old. And the movie was her one and only acting credit.

The story followed a poor Louisiana bayou community that was struggling for survival. Along with an Oscar nod for best picture, the film also won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Director Benh Zeitlin only cast Louisiana natives for the main roles in the movie. And more than 4,000 children auditioned for the parts. But according to Alexander’s mother, her daughter’s charm won her a spot on camera. Alexander played the character of Joy Strong.

“She was like, ‘I’m going to be in this movie,’” Shelly Alexander remembered. “They fell in love with Jonshel.”

Zeitlin reserved the lead part of Hushpuppy for a younger actress. And it went to six-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis. But Zeitlin fell in love with Alexander’s spirit, saying she was an “absolute one-of-a-kind, unforgettable, force-of-nature human being.”

So Zeitlin gave her a supporting role.

“We incorporated a part into the film that was very much inspired by her. A lot of the lines were written by her. And so much of the character grew out of who Jonshel was. Her character in the film is named Joy Strong, which always seemed like a perfect description of Jonshel. She was a really bright burning light,” Zeitlin said.