Former child actress Jonshel Alexander, who had a supporting role in the 2012 acclaimed film Beasts of the Southern Wild, has died after being shot.
The 22-year-old Louisiana native was shot as she sat in a vehicle with a man in New Orleans’ 7th Ward on Saturday night, per The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate. Paramedics declared Alexander dead at the scene, while the man she was with drove himself to the hospital.
The New Orleans Police Department has issued photos of a person of interest in connection to the shooting and has urged witnesses to come forward.
Alexander’s mother, Shelly Alexander told The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate on Tuesday: “She brought life to everything. Jonshel was feisty, jazzy, spoiled. It was her way or no way. Jonshel was like, ‘It’s going to be me.’”
Jonshel Alexander was 12 years old when she played Joy Strong in Beasts of the Southern Wild, a lauded film that was shot near Houma, Louisiana, and told the story of an impoverished bayou community struggling to survive.
Director Benh Zeitlin had held open auditions for Louisiana natives to appear in the film, auditioning more than 4,000 before settling on the cast members.
While Alexander was too old for the lead role of Hushpuppy, which went to then 6-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis, Zeitlin, who said that he was devastated to learn of Alexander’s death, revealed that he was captivated by her.
The filmmaker told The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate that Alexander was an “absolute one-of-a-kind, unforgettable, force-of-nature human being,” prompting him to cast her in the supporting role.
“We incorporated a part into the film that was very much inspired by her,” Zeitlin said. “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.”
On its release, the film was met with critical acclaim, winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and landing four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture.
The young Alexander would go on to live a life away from the bright lights of Hollywood, graduating from high school before working as a restaurant hostess and taking care of her 1-year-old daughter, De-vynne Robinson.
On Wednesday, her Beasts of the Southern Wild co-star Wallis, who was nominated for a Best Actress Academy Award for her role in the film, took to her Twitter and Instagram accounts to share memories of their time together on set.
The actress wrote: “when were filming we were always together and i wish i could go back in time so i can see you again. i love you. you will be missed by so many.”
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